We develop casual games, which in narrative terms means that, generally, stories tend to be overlooked in our field:
- Some odd pigs stole your eggs and you immolate your people (birds) to erase their kind.
- Someone leaves a hungry critter at your doorstep and you feed it a la “Home Alone”.
- You use a machine-gun as a jetpack to burst into a factory and gather some cash that would allow you to get a green mohawk haircut (??).
The list could go on and on, and the quality of stories would diminish until we got to: “a sugar-dealer majordomo invites you to move candies around”.
Before going any further we must say that despite their minimalist stories, these four games rely on a solid gameplay that’s been proven highly motivating for millions of players.
Although we may not be great story tellers, and we definitely have replicated some naive approaches to casual games, we certainly care about making casual games move forward…
Workers leaving the factory – Inception
In the pathway we have figured out that we can tell amusing stories using not just the intros of the game. In this case, we’ll talk briefly about the narrative possibilities of level menus.
Once again, the previously mentioned games have no significant stories, so there’s no way that their level menus can build up something that is missing from the beginning.
Three classical models of casual games level menus: slots with numbers, In-App-Purchases focused screen, and pointless map. (While you can talk about a journey using a map, in most games it’s just an excuse to give a sense of progression and use different background settings in the game. In the best of cases, every new area will unlock new game mechanics vaguely related to its emplacement, but still though there’s no underlying story about a travel.)
Here there are some story-aimed level menus we used in the past.
Meet Barcenas, the treasurer of a major spanish political party. In the game Chorizos de España, this merry fellow has gathered tons of black money and needs to carry them to Switzerland, the nation where blood-stained money sleeps tight. Traveling by plane is not safe for his purpose, so you have to drive all your way through.
The narrative resource of the journey fits perfectly here. The real character made these very same travel to carry loads of 500-euro bills to Lombard Odier’s offices in Geneva. So if point A and point B are relevant to the development of your story, and there’s a story about a journey to be told… don’t fear the stiff and overused maps: they are your answer, master Frodo!
Hail soccer maniacs! This is soccer: once a sport and now a showbiz where 22 guys kick a ball on an encapsulated green meadow while earning a vast amount of money. Just that. A cheerful sports commentator here, a spicy streaker there. No big plots. And still though, there’s a competition context we need to reinforce.
The badge and reward system totally makes sense here. Simply by grouping different stages and arranging them inside a tournament system, we can compete for these world famous trophies, instead of playing an array of spare matches. After all, sport talks about competition, and this display of status which is a trophy cabinet is a major motivator for a sportsman.
When you are traveling with your friends, your plane suddenly crashes on a mysterious island. Are there any survivors? Let’s find out!
Boom Bang Friends uses a rather uncommon map through a guided tour on the island. You start looking around for your friends, but then, a magical portal appears at the end of level 3 and sends you randomly to another dimension or back to the past. The journey unravels offering you to travel to a sci-fi and a halloweenesque world. On the other possible branch, the time travel can lead you either to the pirate seas or the indian canyons. This bizarre story is widely inspired by the series Lost. The purpose here was to drive the player through an impredictible journey out of control.
Do you remember The Death appearing on “The seventh seal” challenging the knight to a chess match? … no? Well… remember the scene of Death playing Battleship in Bill & Ted’s bogus journey? Well… anyway… Death knocks on your door, and before you can even challenge her to a game in exchange for your soul, she proposes a basketball match, just for fun, with her and her three friends: Famine, War and Pestilence.
It may not be quite elaborated, but in Apocalypse Baskeball’s story the individual appeal of the characters is quite relevant. Instead of presenting 4 different game modes, we emplace the player against 4 challenges, 4 cocky demi-gods that make fun of you from the very beginning.
All in all, it’s pretty simple. No deep diving into ellaborated plots or metaphorical stuff, and still, with little effort there’s enough space to reinforce the theme of your game via the level menus. We just sneaked into the possibilities (we are certainly no masters at it), but there are so many opportunities for you to build part of your story using this screen. So when you discover yourself planning a 3-starred-slot levels matrix, or a map to nowhere, just take a couple of minutes to see if you are loosing a narrative opportunity there.