Go from good to amazing with storytelling

Today marks the end of the first project for WDI7, the 7th web development course to run at General Assembly Singapore, and boy is my mind dizzy. These guys are amazing.

The strong ones delivered breathtaking games. Those who struggled pulled themselves together and levelled up, and presented projects that exceeded our (and I suspect their own) expectations. I attribute some of that to their extra 2 weeks in December, and a lot of it to their grit and willingness to collaborate. The result was a jaw that could hardly stay up.

There was a particularly poignant moment for me today when one of them showed his game. To create the game–a swap-the-pipes-position-to-transport-some-weird-fluid game–involved a good grasp of JavaScript programming, but what impressed me wasn’t recursive functions or curry-ing. It was his storytelling, and how he used it to wrap around his game.

In a matter of seconds of him explaining the made-up story of us (the player) being inside a cyborg dinosaur, I was sold. He told it like he genuinely believed it, which somehow made it more believable for me. We are playing this game to keep the robot dino operational – the fluid were its mechanic electrolytes or something along those lines. I had a vivid imagination of myself inside the dinosaur pulling levers to keep it and its chicken front limbs upright and moving.

While his project was also technically complex, it didn’t matter that it was. If it had been a simpler game that didn’t require recursion and a clever method to animate moving fluid, it would’ve been just as awesome. To put it as it is – because I’m sold on the story, I’m subconsciously making things up to support it.

As a programmer I’m able to tell (and appreciate) the level of sophistication needed to execute a game. But in this case, once the good story has been told, that part of my mind has gone dim; and the party appears to have moved to the swankier Faculty of Imagination. There, everything is more fun and fun is everything.

To make a good game, tell a good story. It’s the conduit into a person’s emotional playground. Once you’re there, a pretty good game becomes amazing.