As a gamer, I’m a sucker for a great story. I love to read and write and was always fascinated with the concept of writing stories for video games. From what I gathered, it’s not as easy as one would think, as you’re not only building a story, you’re building characters, lore, and even game mechanics around all of that–not as simple as one would think!
I came across an independent developer, Roosterlandia, working on their very first game called Coldage. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world, in the ruins of a once great civilization. You will be playing as a group of five characters, called Protectors, each possessing their own personality traits, skill sets, race, and religious beliefs. You engage in card-based battles with your enemies, and your choices both in card battles and dialogue have heavy weight not only on the world you’re in, but on your characters and how they interact with each other.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the main developers on the project, Nikola (residing in Serbia) and Simon (residing in Sweden), to talk about Coldage and how they approach writing stories for video games.
Stoy: So, tell me a little bit about your game!
N & S: Coldage is a strategic card game about choices and consequences. The game is set in the ruins of a once great civilization where the descendants of humans are struggling to survive. In the game, the player follows five Protectors sent on an important mission that is crucial for their settlement’s survival. The group will face certain dangers in the ruins that they have to navigate through. In addition to external dangers, their interpersonal relationships will test their unity as a team, which makes the player’s choices even more difficult to ensure success.
Stoy: How did you come up with the inspiration for the story? Sounds intriguing.
N & S: The story-writing process started 20 years ago and has been an on-and-off project ever since. Several implementation attempts have been made in the past, but it is only now that we are doing it for real. The original idea was to make a big story that includes different ages or eras, and then pull one part of it: Coldage (Cold Age so to speak). The inspiration behind the story was to explore the concept of racism and how the beings in this story are different from one another. The question that the story explores is: how willing are you to alienate other people who are different from you to further your own agenda?
Stoy: Sounds like a heavy theme. So, when you sit down to write stories and lore for the game, can you detail the process on how you all do it?
N & S: Yes and no! The early phases are just about writing a story–fragments of it and not in chronological order. As the game itself becomes clearer, the story has to be cut and adapted into the game. We iterated to ourselves many times on having good storytelling, but we had issues explaining the game to others.
So, we developed one big story and then focused on one time period, which is Coldage, to start with to introduce the game to the public. From there, we created the factions, the races, and genealogy. Then, [we] focused even further on one faction and the characters that inhabit that faction.
Stoy: Can you tell us a little bit about one of the factions in the game?
N & S: The Protectors have survived by work and defense collaboration, trade with children from other factions, and adhering to a caste system that defines individual roles and responsibilities.
To a Protector child, the world is a dangerous place. They band together with others of their kind for protection and community. All other races are viewed with extreme distrust and often attacked or driven away on sight. Other children on the other hand are welcomed for trade, especially Nomads. They also trade with Rebuilders (they will expect the trade delegation to be children only) for their own benefit, but will remain confused as to why children would interact with other races like the Rebuilders do. Protectors hope to live in peace and prosperity isolated from non-children races and factions, although that seems to be a dream more than a reality.
Stoy: How important is an engaging story to you when making a video game?
N & S: Very important–our motivation for making games is to tell a story. Or even better, give the player the tools to tell the story, to fill in the gaps themselves. For the first prototype, we focused on the game mechanics, but then we realized that we couldn’t make the game around just the mechanics. We then changed track and focused on the narrative because we as players want to explore worlds and stories ourselves.
Stoy: When you want the players to be immersed in the story or characters, what are the most important points to make when writing?
N & S: We don’t have an easy answer to that! What we do is to try to write a good story with some interesting twists, and make the characters relatable. In Coldage, we have relied on archetypes in the characters’ creation and fleshed their personalities out. We are presenting the characters’ personalities to the players as people they might know or are similar to themselves in real life, and then place them in an environment or situation they will never be in.
Stoy: How has development for your game been progressing?
N & S: We have been iterating on prototypes and working simultaneously on the story and game mechanics. We are now focused on the best presentation of our story. We are also working on all aspects of the game at once: music, art, coding, etc. Our biggest challenge as a team has been that we are trying to innovate all the time, and the idea of the game changes frequently as a result. We are new at this, and we have made some rookie mistakes. The team has grown to the current five people, and we are now in parallel with the game production. I think we started on the marketing too late, however. We were very tech-focused in the beginning, and I think it is important to work on visual art, programming, storytelling, and marketing at the same time.
Overall, we are enjoying what we are doing, and we have the best time working as a team. We hope that this shows in our final game, and we get to create value for our players. The game is going to be released in August 2021, and you can wishlist the game now on Steam so that you get the latest updates and notifications about the release.
So, it’s not an easy task to write a great story for video games. Not only are you trying to flesh out the overall story, but writing relatable characters and archetypes can pose quite a challenge too! In addition to that, you must weave it all into the game’s mechanics and gameplay. The team at Roosterlandia is focused on delivering not only a great game to play, but a great story to fall into. Be sure to save Coldage onto your wishlist on Steam!
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Image Source: Roosterlandia