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Dinosaurs with lasers? Sure, as long as it makes sense

Dinosaurs with lasers? Sure, as long as it makes sense

August 17, 2012 | By Mike Rose

August 17, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Console/PC, Indie, Design, GDC Europe

Storyline and fiction are perhaps not elements you'd associate with the flurry of titles from indie studio Vlambeer. Yet developer duo Jan Willem Nijman and Rami Ismail take the underlying fiction in their games very seriously, whether the players actually notice it or not.

During a GDC Europe talk titled "Sensible Nonsense," Nijman and Ismail discussed how building up a backstory and fictional world for your games is incredibly important to them, as these decisions then give structure to certain settings and gameplay elements injected into each title.

Take Super Crate Box for example -- anyone who has played the arcade-style title would be hard-pushed to explain the story behind the experience. At first glance it appears that the game is simply throwing a variety of random levels your way with very little actual plot involved.

However, there is indeed an entire fiction holding it all together, which revolves around a construction worker who is forced to defend the world from aliens by blasting into space via a rocket, and killing the alien invasion dead at its source -- the Moon. This story can be subtly seen in places, from the rocket ship in the background of the first level, to the final world that is set in a temple on the Moon.

Now, this story isn't exactly important when it comes to the players' enjoyment of the game. Yet, argues the Vlambeer pair, when it came to deciding which environments to build levels around, the underlying storyline shaped everything that the player sees.

"We spend ages on our fiction, but we never really show it," noted Ismail. "But you feel it and you know it's there."

Vlambeer took inspiration for this approach from a variety of rather odd sources -- one of which was Valve's super-popular Team Fortress 2. While the majority of players may simply see this online multiplayer title as two teams shooting each other to pieces, there is in fact an underlying story which shapes everything you see and hear.

Each new update that is released for the game is also shaped to fit the fiction already built into the title, making every added element coherent with the rest of the game. Fiction consistency is perhaps the most important element of setting that underlying tone, says Vlambeer -- "If you want to have dinosaurs with lasers, make them in a world where dinosaurs with lasers makes sense," notes Nijman.

Gamasutra is in Cologne, Germany this week covering GDC Europe and Gamescom. For more coverage, visit our official event page. (UBM TechWeb is parent to both Gamasutra and GDC events.)

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