How to start a game

Chaneque

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How do you start a game? Do you have a cutscene? Do you throw the user straight into dialogue? Or into a battle? I'm currently struggling as to how to start my game (at current it just jumps into a middle of the conversation the characters are having that sets up the entire game - it's a short game), and wondered how you guys have done it or prefer to do it.
 
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Psykofreac

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Depends on the game, sometimes you might like a thematic cutscene because it's fitting or you want to express the theme enough. My preference is to show off some interesting characters and gameplay early on, I think those help the players decide it's worth sticking around. More likely characters though, it's easier to start the story without being awkward when the characters are entertaining.
 
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The Art of Gaming

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I usually set up the story a bit in a short cutscene. These usually introduce the player to the main character, their goal, and where the character needs to go next to advance the story. (Usually in that exact order actually haha). Starting in the middle of a battle could be a bit jarring in certain circumstances but if done right, could really make an amazing opening.
 

rue669

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Make it as cinematic as possible. I really can't stand intros that tell you about the world and the characters. 


Just start with a scene that may lead to a battle or a dungeon or whatever. We'll learn all that stuff about the world and the characters through playing and experiencing the game. 
 

bgillisp

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Try to get the player playing as soon as possible. In my game I have a little cutscene showing the bad guys pondering, then a second short scene that shows how you get there, and you start. Takes about 2 minutes before you are in your first battle and actually doing stuff.
 

TheOriginalFive

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I started with a short cutscene introducing the main character. The main point is to make them ask "Why would so-and-so do this?" in order to make them want to play further.
 

HexMozart88

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For me, I have little implicit hints about each of the characters. The first scene of the game is your character sitting at his table in the corner of his room, and he's just writing, and then you see some one come in, and calling him to come down, because he needs to host a feast, which he completely forgot about. But he doesn't seem too upset that he forgot. So that automatically pops an image of the characters into the player's head, thus letting them decide early on whether or not they can stand the characters. There are no battles until you leave the castle, so the first part is a little boring, you're just walking around, going to the dining hall. But that still makes sense with the story of the game. So, I guess the point of this is that it kind of depends on what you're going for, but the number one thing to keep in mind is: Do not introduce your characters at the beginning like "This is so-and-so. (s)he is x years old. (s)he enjoys ________" Unless you want your game to be purposely cliche.  
 

Kes

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Avoid several minutes of scrolling text giving you a load of info about the world, what's happened over the last couple of centuries etc. etc.  It has to be the most tedious way of starting a game that there is.
 

reno385

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Yes, please don't use the infamous scrolling text of history. Even if it's a really interesting history, that's just not a great way to start a game. 


I think it should be fine to open in the middle of a conversation as long as it's interesting. I'm working on my opening too and I'm thinking of something similar, where two of the characters break into a jail after hours looking for something hidden, can't find it, and a third character who is a prisoner says he can get it for them if they break him out. The purpose of this is to briefly introduce the characters through interaction, set up a bit of intrigue and hopefully get the player invested in what's going on. Then the first battles follow not too long afterward.


Just try to focus on making the first 5-10 minutes of the game hook the player. If you look at successful RPGs i think you'll find most of them start out strong in the very beginning. 
 

bgillisp

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Right. Most good games that I've played that had text to explain the background at the start kept it to 4 - 6 lines max (granted, exceptions exist). Something simple like:


The Tower of Doom. Long deserted and rumored to be the home of many monsters, as well as great power. Many have tried to enter it, and all have failed.


Nothing more. That much tells the player that the game is going to be about the tower of doom, and it is dangerous. Then, you can cut to a scene of the player at the base of the tower for some reason.
 
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HexMozart88

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Avoid several minutes of scrolling text giving you a load of info about the world, what's happened over the last couple of centuries etc. etc.  It has to be the most tedious way of starting a game that there is.
This. THIS!!! Unless it's a Star Wars game, do not do that! That is so annoying and I end up instinctively pressing space two million times. To no avail. 
 

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Better not start with a long cutscene, it's often a good reason to close & delete the game unless said scene is really hooking.
 

Milennin

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For my own games, I prefer to keep my intro as short as possible. In 2 of my games, I don't even have an intro to begin with, I just hand it over to the player the moment they start up the game. My other game has a few dialogue boxes before letting the player play the game, and then has an introduction area that has a number of longer cutscenes, but with gameplay (walking, mini-game and combat) in-between that.


When playing other games, I prefer short intros, because I don't have a long attention span (at least not until the game has proven itself worthy of my attention), so if you start your game with a long text scroll about the history of your world, chances are I'll alt+tab out and check back when the game decides to let me play. But if it necessarily needs a long intro cutscene, it better has some action going on in it. I do like it when there's effort put into cutscenes (have lots of sprites moving on the screen, and special effects going off, possibly a scripted battle scene etc.)
 

PsychicToaster

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Just do not, and I repeat, do not, have an expository text crawl as your introduction. Ever. Period. Not only does it make you an incompetent, insipid game developer and writer, it's also 2016 and the capacity to introduce a story through far less limited means exists. If I can't play a modern game without having to spend five minutes reading unskippable text because someone can't tell a story, I refuse to bother. 

EDIT:This was already said, but it bears reinforcement.

A story is an experience. Make the player go toward the story, rather than the inverse of bringing the story to the player. Again, not being given the controls in the first five minutes is tedious and boring, unless you're just that good with cinematic elements. 

My game starts with the "Any Port In a Storm" scenario, where the PC and his companion decide to seek shelter from the elements or a threat of some sort. It doesn't matter. They might be traveling back from successfully escorting some merchant and his goods(blades for hire) or they could simply be travelers looking for a new place to settle. There's plenty of possible variations here, ranging from the mundane to the ridiculous. I prefer games where you feel like nobody special when the game begins, because let's face it, the idea of some "All Important Destiny™" and how you're the "Chosen Dude Who Will Do Everything All the Other Dudes Couldn't™" is absurd and cliched, having been done hundreds of times by both major and indie game developers alike. Leave out the "All Powerful Whatchamajig Someone Left Lying Around For the Bad Dude To Find" and please, for the love of Odin, do not force the story to revolve around "Collect An Arbitrary Number of Arbitrary Thingies Because Plot Advancement". I realize it worked for 'The Legend of Zelda:Insert Subtitle here', but please, just make the drawn out fetch quests stop. I suffered enough with World of Warcraft. Also, I hope you enjoy the made-up TV Tropes-esque names I'm using lol. Anyway, where was I? 

Right, not feeling special. It leaves the character(s) room to grow, and miles of it. What's more fun than going from a simple sellsword, a farmer, a blacksmith, a traveler, etc to an almighty badass murder machine that can destroy portions of the universe by sneezing first thing in the morning? It's the core principle behind just about every pen and paper RPG; start off as nobody, become demigod. It's fantastic, and very easy to work into a story anyone can love. I reiterate:a story is an experience. Make it one. Back to my heroes(or not) taking shelter for whatever reason, they encounter something that kickstarts the story pretty quickly, which could be anything. Since my own story revolves around an ongoing war between several nations(no, this isn't a GoT ripoff : P), my PC and his companion could wind up in a tussle with some ruffians that turn out to be more than your average thieves. They are soldiers in A Total BAMF's army, several of them of higher ranking, and one of which is the Mysterious Guy In a Cloak that rushes off to tell somebody more mysterious than he is that you punks are being quite rude to his men, who just wanted to drink tavern swill and drunkenly call nearby patrons 'wenches', irrespective of their actual gender. Poor fellows. 

I could go on and on, but this branches out in a lot of different directions because of the multifaceted nature of my project. There are factions you can ally with, piss off, have send assassins after you, make friends with said assassins because you practically own half of a city and could pay them off, have a visit with the leader of their former faction, and paint the walls with his blood and/or family members. Well, that last part might be excessive and not actually true, but you get the idea. 

Hopefully this helps. If anything, it was entertaining for me and I had a good time writing it.
 
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HexMozart88

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Another thing: do not, I repeat: DO NOT have your characters break the fourth wall to introduce themselves. 


"Hi! My name is Useless and I'm a weawy annoying so-and-so! Have fun pwaying!" (I don't know why I made them sound like Elmer Fudd, so don't ask.) But yeah, do not do that. All you need is a simple cutscene where, perhaps two main characters are talking and it gives off a subtle hint as to who is who. But, don't exaggerate it. Don't stretch their personalities to the point where they've become anime cliches. We don't need any more of those. And no random images with a disembodied voice saying "Deep in the forests of Somewhere, our hero's quest begins..." No, no, no, and no again! 
 

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Another tip I like to give is:avoid telling players literally everything in the first hour of the game. Try to at least leave something for them to figure out or discover on their own. Not only will players fill like they're being treated like adults that can make reasonable inferences or draw their own conclusions about things, which pulls them deeper into the game, but real people don't talk like that. When I stop and ask for directions, the individual in question that I'm asking doesn't rattle off a history of the street we're standing on, what his Aunt Thelma is doing next Friday, his bank account information, and social security number. I get what I asked for, if he knows in the first place. Great ways to give up tidbits of information is flavor text on items, readable books, signs, the occasional tavern or inn gossip that may not even be entirely true, etc. Or just asking the right people, for the right price or for something in exchange. A city guard doesn't know you. He knows you're an outsider, someone who, in these troubling times, is immediately suspicious and untrustworthy. He isn't going to spout off where the city mayor lives and how you can find him on the third floor of his manor. Here is a key to his bedchamber while you're at it, and he takes his tea at 3:00PM in the gardens. Not likely. Make it worth his while to tell you, bribe him, or maybe he'll ask you to do something, but probably not. He's a guard. Solving murders and defending the city is sort of his job. Not yours, guy with weird hair. Information comes at a cost, or from a source that might be more involved in what's going on. 

Give the player some room to be involved in the world. Don't tell me  "The key to defeating Insert Demonic Name Here lies in the ruins to the north". If that were the case, why, Mr.Random NPC, are you telling me this? Why would you be privy to such information, information that may save the lives of you, the innocent citizens you share a community with, and those soldiers that are being slaughtered by the dozen trying to stop the Bad Guy? Please explain how you came to possess this knowledge and the reason you decided to hand it over to me specifically. Did you just decide you absolutely could not hold it in anymore and had to tell the next stranger with a sword that isn't from your village? I must also ask why the key to defeating an ancient horror is just hanging out in a dusty old ruin. Seems like something the guy(s) who made it might have wanted to keep in a glass case labeled "In Case of Apocalyptic Cosmic Monstrosity, Break Glass", conveniently stored in the guard barracks. 

Reasonably, a lot of NPCs aren't going to know a lot of things. In fact, a lot of average people will just be scared, uninformed, and prone to giving misinformation rather than being a veritable fountain of helpful tips that only serve to push the player in a direction he or she would have already been going in. The game should be laid out in such a way that any piece of "Please Go Here Because I Said So" dialogue should be wholly unnecessary at the beginning, especially for your main story quest. Side quests or lengthy journeys toward remote locations later on in the game definitely need a bit of direction, but come on, we just started and you're already holding our hands. No thanks. I'm out. Uninstalling. 
 
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AnotherMage

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"Show, don't tell." AKA try not to explain the absolute everything of everyone, why magic came into existence, the four celestial keystones, the thousand year war, and the ancestry of the hero in the first minute of the game. It just is probably not going to work, and will likely bore someone. If opting for a narrative approach to an opening, try to find some way to hook the player into the world. Whether it be the characters, the conflict, or even the setting. My personal favorite is by introducing some sort of "mystery", a question with no apparent answer that the player is drawn to want to know. 


If you choose to hook the player with characters, (a bit more difficult to do well, but possible), keep in mind the difference between direct characterization and indirect characterization. For games, try to avoid direct characterization as much as possible, (being the narrator explicitly stating the character's personality, facts, etc.), and try to reveal a character through their words (dialogue), appearance (clothes, hair, etc.), and actions (do they run quickly? Do they jump around a lot? Are they slow?).


For example, try imagining a game introducing a cheerful young punk-rock girl. Would you want to listen to a narrator describe "Ibuki is an energetic girl who loves to rock. She's cheerful and upbeat." Or would you rather be introduced to a character with an eccentric appearance, speaks with an optimistic demeanor, and constantly jumps and shouts? (Also, Dangan Ronpa 2 reference, if anyone caught that...)


As for lore and world-building, it shouldn't be ignored either. Just try to have the lore revealed gradually, enough so the player isn't in the dark, but not so much so that they're overwhelmed with information.
 

HexMozart88

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One more thing to add: if your game is gameplay based, you can explain a bit more in the beginning, because there's little to no dialogue in the actual thing. A bit of a cinematic with simple flow animation should do it. No longer than a minute long, and check some bigger RPG's for inspiration. 
 

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