How Much Backstory Should I Include and how far you go back?

Kupotepo

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How far I should go back from the starting point of the story?
How far do you go in your game?[A year, a century, a 2,000 years ago, since your world create, since the first races of creatures were born]

Timing Is Everything
[Many of us here agree that opening information overload is a repeller of most of the players.]
[Many games like to revel the backstory to connect the dots together. I guess to make a player feels resolute.]

  • Storyteller [Tell rich histories for the characters continuously ]vs. Novelist [Resist Explaining or Teaching]
  • The novelist in my sense, I mean to you see the novelist like he or she will not tell you what they want to do next.
  • But, Storyteller just wants us to know more likes a historian despite how much we need a space to digest information.
  • I hope to this becomes clearer.
[It is just my opinion. It is not empirical true.] I realized something that I fall into this trap too. I mean it is fine to include the library or wiki where players can go read on their own liking. But, you should just light touch or reference and include more than one sentence in the dialogues.

[It is just my opinion.] I think novelists takes more discipline than storyteller because it requires many writers to bite their tongue from writing thing that they find interesting. [What I am interesting, it doesn't mean other people feel that way.]

  • "Good storytelling has nothing to do with what the author wants to say, and everything to do with what the characters need to say."
  • :kaoluv:I guess because I am a beginner; therefore, it doesn't come to me naturally. We naturally want the characters to a thing that we want and behave. We forget that characters might not want to do it due to their fear, their belief or their past.

How much backstory should I include?
[It is my opinion. It is not importance.] I think to includes the backstory when it relates to the current story. Players just need enough to make sense of the present and move on fighting or walking.
A professional writer warms not to include backstory like pouring rain because it is sabotaging moment of the current story. By foreshadowing a backstory too much, you're as a writer losing the element of surprise. Because the player/reader/listener expected that to happen sooner or later.

No, Too Much, Too Soon [Info Dump] right?

How do you implement a backstory? and how far your story go back? I would like to hear your thought process.
 
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cthulhusquid

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I think I do a hybrid of the two, interspersing out information throughout the game, but it's a lot of information. Sometimes I do info dumps, but they tend to be at key plot points where I want to get all the necessary information out so players can get a deeper understanding of what's going on. The last thing I want is for players to be lost plot-wise.

I find that game histories are best measured in a few hundred years of time, since you can have stuff that happened a long time ago, but is still remembered by people and affects the game world. For instance, in Battle Castle there is two huge wars. One happened a hundred years before the game, and the second happened around five years before. There are people alive who remember the first, and a ton who experienced the second.
 

ShadowDragon

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depends, you can do alot, or only the crucial parts.
in Zelda Link to the past is it short and to the point, but you can leave most out of it
in case you want a pre-sequel of the story or a mini game before what happend in
the next story.

another way is to only provide tiny and crucial information of the story and than use
and exspended story inside the game through books, plugin or otherwise (if they want
to read it).

I use a bit of information which I might cut down to half or more, but the full story
what happend before can be read in game (if you find pieces) those are optional though.

while the story is or will be cut mostly (less cutscenes that can take more time on itself)
they can read it all back if they like too for more details and stuff.

How you approach it is up to you though.
 

Kuro DCupu

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As much as it required to the story progression.
Why do you need to know that "war between god happened thousand years ago" if the main focus of the story from start till the end are not even related to that information? Even if that was part of your lore fact, if the information ain't mean anything, might as well not telling at all.
 

gstv87

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highly depends on the age of each character.
ancient history of the world should be defined, because that's what drives the recent history, and that drives the current character history.
it's ok if some specifics about the life of a character aren't cleared, but some questions should be expected to be answered, like "why did you become this?" or "where did you grow up?" to an elderly character.

as a rule of thumb, start from the very end, and work your way backwards: you have the endgame, how did you get there?, who's there?, how did *they* get there?, own choice or circumstances?, why?, what was the path not taken?, etc etc.
out of answers to those questions (especially the ones not taken) you build a character's backstory.

write a lot, but avoid information dumps.
the story must unravel by the player's inquiries, not by exposition.

just yesterday I was watching Stargirl, the new DC show.
at the beginning of episode 3 there's a shot of about 30 seconds, that without saying anything specific, it gives you a great insight on the backstory of one of the characters: he's an only child, his wife died, his parents are immigrants, they're all "in on it" (no spoiler), the character is enraged, and he's out for revenge.
and the only thing in the shot is a bedroom, with some background noise, and one line by his father.
THREE WORDS! that's all the dialogue there is.
later on, there's another shot where more of the house is shown, and I probably missed a few hints, but I'm sure there's a few clues hidden in the wall hangings, pictures and furniture that tell a lot more about the parents and where they're from.... and from there, *why* they're at the here and now, relative to the story.
I didn't read the comics, but surely somebody who did, will pick those clues up.
 

Finnuval

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What you feed the player directly should only be the necessary but it should all be there to be found at the players discretion divided into small(ish) chunks and based on importance to the current story.

For example : my current project takes place in a Victorian city so there is a lot of history there. Is this important to the player though? No about 99% is not and about 80% isn't important at all.
So the 1% that is important the player gets fed, the 19% that has some importance on overall worldsetting etc can be found in books, optional dialogue, newspaper articles, etc. For the player to find if they want to enrich their experience at their leasure. The remaining 80% might be alluded to in some conversation but never fully explored at all.

Thats what I do anyway xD
 

Wavelength

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There's no question that info dumps are bad, and early info dumps are even worse.

However, that doesn't mean that you should cut out lore entirely! Lore and plot can make each other more interesting - for example, if a vengeful goddess cursed a town to suffer earthquakes, you could have a thrilling scene where an earthquake strikes a nearby dungeon after you defeat the boss, and then, only after escaping, do you find out this tale of why. Maybe her vengeance was directed toward a villain/force that becomes the Big Bad of the game later! I think most audiences like this kind of thing. It gives more of a sense of 'why' things are happening - they feel less arbitrary. Just be careful not to reveal too much abstract information (or too many names) at once.

Where lore isn't directly relevant to the plot, but serves as interesting worldbuilding, it's great to work that lore into sidequests, interactable objects (think books, computers, landmarks, museums, etc.), item/equip descriptions, and physical environments (for example, that earthquake town could have fault lines all over, and most of the structures could be temporary ones like large tents).
 

Cqualt

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depends on how much you care about the story...

add as much as you want or as little in order to get your MAIN point across and if u feel you want more than add more! really depends how deep you can or want to think :) good luck
 

rue669

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I'd say provide as little backstory as possible. Now if you are making a story-heavy game, you might have more opportunity to go deeper into story elements, but I'd caution you on that. Gamers, first and foremost, want to play a game, not read a novel. So unless you are making a visual novel, I'd sprinkle your backstory in throughout the game.

The rule of thumb for me is, if it's not important enough to the main story, there's no need to talk about it.

And, please, never do a long drawn out prologue. Prologues are cringe-worthy, even in novels. And if your game starts with "Would you like to skip the intro?", then the intro is completely unnecessary.
 

Kupotepo

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@cthulhusquid, thank you

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
@ShadowDragon, thank you

depends, you can do alot, or only the crucial parts.
in Zelda Link to the past is it short and to the point, but you can leave most out of it
in case you want a pre-sequel of the story or a mini game before what happend in
the next story.
It is a creative idea to go about. Thank you for let me know.

another way is to only provide tiny and crucial information of the story and than use
and exspended story inside the game through books, plugin or otherwise (if they want
to read it).
That is what I planned to do actually. I build a library where a player can go read about the past like we do not in real life.

while the story is or will be cut mostly (less cutscenes that can take more time on itself)
they can read it all back if they like too for more details and stuff.
That is what I said if I am being unclear. I apologize for assuming.
I realized something that I fall into this trap too. I mean it is fine to include the library or wiki where players can go read on their own liking. But, you should just light touch or reference and include more than one sentence in the dialogues.
May be an example would be easier to understand.
Player: Do you know about the Ice Sword?
Local seller: I think it is a powerful and evil sword? I am not sure maybe you can find more detail on our city's library.
Player: Thank you for your information!

I use a bit of information which I might cut down to half or more, but the full story
what happend before can be read in game (if you find pieces) those are optional though.
It is like a fun innovative idea machinic where a player can find the memory crystal to learn more about their past. Am I going the wrong way of what you mean?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

@Kuro DCupu, thank you
@gstv87, thank you
@Finnuval, thank you
@Wavelength, thank you
@Cqualt, thank you

******************************************************************************************
@rue669, thank you
Gamers, first and foremost, want to play a game, not read a novel. So unless you are making a visual novel, I'd sprinkle your backstory in throughout the game.
Thank you for put into better than my babbling. We as a player for the most part and then learn more about what is going little bit by interaction.

The rule of thumb for me is, if it's not important enough to the main story, there's no need to talk about it.
It is a deadly trap for beginner to just force-feeding players during the cutscenes to just force them to listen instead of letting them to NPC or going archive of your historian world.

It is my fault that you interpret that way because I am being unclear and not being concise.

And, please, never do a long drawn out prologue. Prologues are cringe-worthy, even in novels.
I will make a mandatory superlong prologue. I am kidding. I think that what I refer to when I talk on top.:kaohi: Thank you again for your time to answer my question.
 
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HumanNinjaToo

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I think elder scrolls is a good example of lore done right, because they offer numerous books and sidequests that explain the world. All of these are optional, so the player can skip the lore, or take it all in, whatever they wish to do.

I think Dark Souls did good with lore by using item/spell/weapon descriptions to tell the story. It was there if the player wanted to invest the time to piece it together an understand it, or the player can ignore it.

I recently began playing through FF Tactics again, and I like how the game starts you in the present, but then places you in the prologue during chapter 1. The lore/history is given to you through gameplay. Also, that game uses 'rumors' at the taverns if players want to hear optional lore about the game world.

Info dumps always suck IMO. I prefer to begin playing the game right out of the gate. Also, I really dislike when a game tricks you into thinking you can start playing right away by giving you that first battle/mission, and then make you sit through the info dump and endless cutscenes for 30 minutes after that first battle.

I prefer to get all lore through the gameplay. I prefer cutscenes to be short, I don't like going more than about 3-5 minutes without being able to control the PC and move on if I want. If info dumps do exist in the game, I prefer them to be on my terms as the player: like having the descriptions/definitions tab in the menu, a bestiary, etc.

IMO, the biggest turn-off for an indie game is trying to force your game lore on the player within the first hour of gameplay. I think showing off the battle system and the narrative is a much better way to engage the player then trying to cram your invented world into their brain.
 

Kupotepo

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@HumanNinjaToo, thank you for answering my questions.

IMO, the biggest turn-off for an indie game is trying to force your game lore on the player within the first hour of gameplay. I think showing off the battle system and the narrative is a much better way to engage the player then trying to cram your invented world into their brain.
Thank you for addressing an indie game's taboo.
[It is just my reflection, sorry for you to read through this.]
[No one likes your story more than yourself. We as a developer like to tell a player so much. Because we often don't think that we are being pushy to players because we feel excited and interest like excite to tell our friends what is going on about our daily life. When constructive criticism comes along, I see now why game makers get defensive.] We like to be in our world, but many players like to play and explore.

@cthulhusquid, I agree with you that information needs to be enough to discern what are happening now and why things happen that affect the characters. That is another side of the coin of info dump. Player can be confused and keep to the dark for so long.

I find that game histories are best measured in a few hundred years of time, since you can have stuff that happened a long time ago, but is still remembered by people and affects the game world.
Thank you. That is great idea because that how us measure by 1000 or more.

, if a vengeful goddess cursed a town to suffer earthquakes, you could have a thrilling scene where an earthquake strikes a nearby dungeon after you defeat the boss, and then, only after escaping, do you find out this tale of why. Maybe her vengeance was directed toward a villain/force that becomes the Big Bad of the game later! I think most audiences like this kind of thing. It gives more of a sense of 'why' things are happening - they feel less arbitrary. Just be careful not to reveal too much abstract information (or too many names) at once.
I agree on your balancing method. Just explain the general situation and show situation to players. However do talk to much about topic and naming of unknown characters. For example, you can tell players about cursed that cause an earthquake by goodness. But, I cannot go further to explain how lifted the cursed or why goddness get angry and how win her favor? It up to players to investigate by talk to NPC or discovery dropping clues.

Is that what do you mean correct?

I usually like lores too, but I have to understand that most people came players and not get into the story sadly.:kaoswt2:
 
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NeptuneTron

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I think it's often helpful as the story writer to have at least some idea of the history of your world, back to at least a couple centuries, depending, of course, on scale. Bigger scale game means you need a bigger scale view of history. If your game travels to every point of the globe, it's important to have a pretty good idea of how various cultures, nations, and historical events rippled around that globe to bring you to the world you're in today, and have an idea of several millennia of history and development. On the other hand, if your entire game is centred in a single town, it may only be important to know the history of the surrounding region to not much more than 150 years to understand how the world your players exist in came to be.

However, just because you've spent all this time developing this history and lore doesn't necessarily mean that you should give it all to your player, and certainly not that you should try to lore-dump it all on them. When revealing the story of your game, often that deeper lore isn't important to the immediate plot; however, parts of it might be important to understand the current state of affairs, or the motivations of various entities.

For instance:
Why have the Asdfigians declared war in the Htjdooial highlands?
As the author, you know that the Asdfigians still bear a grudge against the Toilp clans in Htjooia, who betrayed them in a war that ended 86 years ago, taking as reward for their treachery, a significant portion of Htjooia, which Asdfigia still lays claim to, even after all these years. Furthermore, while they have ceased paying tribute to the Duchy of Yqhonf, the tariffs there are seen as a continuation of Yqhonfii oppression in the region, which began 427 years earlier with the Treaty of Qurlkp, and so on, and so forth.

However, your player probably doesn't care about the Treaty of Qurlkp or all that nonsense. They just want to have fun jaunting across the Htjooial highlands. Although understanding all the intricacies and motivations is important for you, telling them all these details would probably get in the way of them enjoying the experience of wandering the wartorn villages of the Toilps, saving the day and whatnot, so it's probably enough to explain the current situation of the current ongoing war, and then just drop mention of a few of these other events throughout their journey. You don't have to explain every reason for the war, simply name-dropping some of these events (and the local attitudes towards them) will be enough to show your players that you've put the time and effort into building this world for them, without overwhelming them with all the details. It also leaves you with a lot of interesting lore to attach to various people, places, and things, which helps your players feel like this world is real and not just something conjured out of thin air. It can also be used to reward your more completionist players, who want to look in every took and cranny; by adding small details with lore attached to them, these players can be rewarded with something other than "oh look, a fancier hat".

Ideally, the pieces of history dropped throughout your game would be enough for the players to feel like they pretty well understand the whole relevant history of your world, without having to slog through long lore-dumps that don't seem to progress the story that much.

Of course, this way of doing things is super time consuming, and can take a lot of effort, but I feel it's always worth it in the end. It may also be why I've never actually finished making a game yet; I get too caught up doing this sort of thing to actually finish it.

So take my advice with a grain of salt.
 

HumanNinjaToo

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Thank you for addressing an indie game's taboo.
[It is just my reflection, sorry for you to read through this.]
[No one likes your story more than yourself. We as a developer like to tell a player so much. Because we often don't think that we are being pushy to players because we feel excited and interest like excite to tell our friends what is going on about our daily life. When constructive criticism comes along, I see now why game makers get defensive.] We like to be in our world, but many players like to play and explore.
Good point, I agree. I think story telling within the context of a game is akin to the iceberg analogy: It's important that the entire iceberg (in this case the game's lore) exists, but most players will only see (and probably only be interested in) the tip of the iceberg that is sticking out of the water. So while I firmly believe that extensive lore and world-building is essential to a solid narrative, it is unnecessary to force the player to witness the entire construct in order to present an interesting and unique story.
 

Kupotepo

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@NeptuneTron, thank you for your response and your helpful tips.

On the other hand, if your entire game is centred in a single town, it may only be important to know the history of the surrounding region to not much more than 150 years to understand how the world your players exist in came to be.
Thank you for your tips.

However, just because you've spent all this time developing this history and lore doesn't necessarily mean that you should give it all to your player, and certainly not that you should try to lore-dump it all on them. When revealing the story of your game, often that deeper lore isn't important to the immediate plot; however, parts of it might be important to understand the current state of affairs, or the motivations of various entities.
I agree with you.

However, your player probably doesn't care about the Treaty of Qurlkp or all that nonsense. They just want to have fun jaunting across the Htjooial highlands.
I agree with you. That depends on the main character who walks with you. How stakeholders of those characters and how involves in those politics. If the character does not care, why should we care? It is true about an author has a god's view. However, the character did not have that knowledge [:LZSevil:Yes, you call the character stupid than you], unless, the character has the power to see the future and the past.

You don't have to explain every reason for the war, simply name-dropping some of these events (and the local attitudes towards them) will be enough to show your players that you've put the time and effort into building this world for them, without overwhelming them with all the details. It also leaves you with a lot of interesting lore to attach to various people, places, and things, which helps your players feel like this world is real and not just something conjured out of thin air. It can also be used to reward your more completionist players, who want to look in every took and cranny; by adding small details with lore attached to them, these players can be rewarded with something other than "oh look, a fancier hat".
Yeah, I still laugh about your comment: "Oh look, a fancier hat." Thank you for your advice. That is what I am planning to do. Some character has limited knowledge of the world. Some authors did not think about the experience and education of characters sometimes. Some game devs like to explore with the author[god's view and scope] instead of a character [limited view and scope].
 
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NeptuneTron

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I agree with you. That depends on the main character who walks with you. How stakeholders of those characters and how involves in those politics. If the character does not care, why should we care? It is true about an author has a god's view. However, the character did not have that knowledge [:LZSevil:Yes, you call the character stupid than you], unless, the character has the power to see the future and the past.
Ah yes, a character playing from a bird's eye view of everything would make it substantially more difficult to balance the correct amount of backstory to feed to your players.

I also really like the rule of thumb that you shouldn't tell your player anything more than their character would be interested in, that seems a pretty easy way to ensure you explain enough and not too much. I hadn't thought of it in that way before, but I think in many ways, it makes a lot of sense, and says in a single sentence what I tried to say in 4 paragraphs.
 

Kupotepo

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Of course, this way of doing things is super time consuming, and can take a lot of effort, but I feel it's always worth it in the end. It may also be why I've never actually finished making a game yet; I get too caught up doing this sort of thing to actually finish it.
When the excessive of the backstory and time-consuming, I fear that if I do not set the limit. I will go backward instead of progress the story forward.
 

Failivrin

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My current project is based on fairy tales. Because they're "timeless" fairy tales have no back story. But I still provide a lot of visual and narrative hints that players can use to imagine their own backstory. That is, I think, the goal of backstory: It should mostly be provided by the players' imaginations. Tolkien kept this in mind when creating Middle Earth. He created a history of the Second Age, then erased it so readers could imagine it themselves. (The story reason is that the great civilization of the Second Age was totally destroyed, and all records of history destroyed with it.) Missing backstory also creates room for fanfics as well as sequels and prequels. For example the story of FFVII is not nearly as polished as FFIV, but VII is more popular and has so many sequels and prequels partly because the original leaves so much to the imagination.
 

Tai_MT

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I go back as far as necessary to include any aspect which may be relevant to the story or the characters.

For example:
Alex, my main character has his entire life plotted out. I have his entire backstory and most of the minutiae of his life written down somewhere. I probably will not even use one tenth of this information. However, each portion of it is a detail of who he is and what he has been through to get him up to the current point of the story.
Mark, on the other hand, a supporting character... Has virtually no backstory beyond he was born, who his father/mother are, and some minor details about how he got to where he is. His "story" begins slightly before Alex meets him and those events are only important to define his personality and his personal philosophies.

In terms of how this stuff is revealed to the player... It's revealed only when it's necessary. Most people don't walk around in their lives spouting details about their life or the history of their country or their people. They just don't. It's not really relevant to everyday life. Much of it is revealed from a character asking something related to something to do with the plot.

For example:

"Elementals" in my world sometimes have what is called and "Illio". It is a magical illusory effect they use to keep them from being targeted as "mages". Namely, they look like warriors with swords and heavy armor. They can don "other" disguises for their equipment, but it is most commonly to look more like "tanks" than "wizards". Maintaining this illusion requires a lot of concentration and magical reserves. Massive dump of information here, right?

How is it revealed?

One character, out of curiosity, asks why they never see the party's Elemental out of her armor. They say, "I know Elementals use an Illio, but I never see you out of that armor. Is your armor actually real? Can I touch it?" and then the other character explains in very simple terms how the Illio works and why they use it so that the other character can then understand the "anomaly" of it.

The player learns the rules of it by being exposed to the exception. It is even done in far less dialogue than I wrote here for the explanation of how it works.

After all, if you ask someone, "how'd you get that scar?" they don't respond with "well, when I was 10, I thought I could fly for some reason. I was a really silly child. Anyway, I believed it because one time I managed to jump really far by accident and didn't really understand physics and how I had managed it. The physics were simple, I was essentially standing on a spring-loaded lever and when I jumped, the guy at the carnival also hit a button to fling the lever with me so I would gain a lot of height and distance. At 10, I was very impressionable, so I thought I could fly if I said the magic words. Anyway, my friends didn't believe me, so I climbed into a tree and was showing off for all of them and jumped from the highest branch. I hit my face on several of the branches on the way down and not only hurt my pride, but broke both my legs as well as shattered my dream of flying."

More often, they respond with, "I was stupid and jumped out of a tree as a kid. Broke my legs and hit my head as I fell."

Lore in the world is "conversational".
 

Kupotepo

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@Tai_MT, thank you for your advice.

More often, they respond with, "I was stupid and jumped out of a tree as a kid. Broke my legs and hit my head as I fell."
Thank you for the laughs.

In terms of how this stuff is revealed to the player... It's revealed only when it's necessary. Most people don't walk around in their lives spouting details about their life or the history of their country or their people. They just don't. It's not really relevant to everyday life. Much of it is revealed from a character asking something related to something to do with the plot.
That is true that ordinary people are an archaeologist.
Alex, my main character has his entire life plotted out. I have his entire backstory and most of the minutiae of his life written down somewhere. I probably will not even use one tenth of this information. However, each portion of it is a detail of who he is and what he has been through to get him up to the current point of the story.
Can we see this turkey finger when he was a young kid?:kaohi: That is why I insist that some part of the writing is not necessary to tell anyone except for yourself notes.

The player learns the rules of it by being exposed to the exception. It is even done in far less dialogue than I wrote here for the explanation of how it works.
I agree with you. It depends on the character's environment and personality.

Lore in the world is "conversational".
It is true. People learned from reading if they want too.

@Failivrin, thank you for your suggestion.

Missing backstory also creates room for fanfics as well as sequels and prequels.
I am not sure if I am clear about it. Backstories do not have to public display. You can keep to yourself if you prefer. That is your choice. I am more concerned about timing and amount which is bit tricky to understand.

But I still provide a lot of visual and narrative hints that players can use to imagine their own backstory. That is, I think, the goal of backstory:
It is a great idea.

The story reason is that the great civilization of the Second Age was totally destroyed, and all records of history destroyed with it.
That is true. I agree with you. Some documents were totally destroyed. I think that why people came up with mythologies.
 
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Okay someone really needs to fix that broken railing, its a health hazard...

I'm starting to wonder if I should go the Half Minute Hero route with my game. The character's main weapon is logistically way too strong. So I can't really let the player continuously grow it.... But if they had to build it up each time like HMH, that could work. Also it lets me take advantage of my randomly generated maps so much more. Hmm... This could work! :LZSexcite:
std::vector, std::map and std::string. Three reasons why I'd take C++ over C. :D

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