Saturday, October 4, 2014

Writing Lessons from Video Games: Assassin's Creed II

My favorite video games are the ones that tell great stories. They are like those in a book or movie or show, but you are in control of the character. I think there are lessons to be learned from the writing in video games, especially from this one.

I've wanted to play Assassins Creed since I was old enough to play it. It's a game about a character named Desmond Miles who is descended from a long line of Assassins. The Assassins are a group of people who assassinate evil men to bring peace and free will to countries. Desmond goes inside a machine that taps into memories of his ancestors stored in his DNA called the Animus so in each game he is in the memories of one of his ancestors. I'd give this game a PG-13 rating since there is some swearing, innuendo, and gore (You're assassinating people. What do you expect?).

I played Assassins Creed: Brotherhood briefly at a cousin's house and really enjoyed the game play and the story. A couple years later I found the games cheap on Amazon (aka two months ago) for my PC and just caved and bought the first two. I played the first one. The story gripped me, but the gameplay was tedious and the character development was shoddy.

Then I put in the second one.

Whoa. I was immediately hooked and stayed hooked throughout the game. It was amazing. Why? For many reasons which I think can apply to books.

Warning: There will be some spoilers.

Ezio and his mother and sister.
1.) You Cared From the Beginning - The gamemakers (mockingjay whistle) made you care for Ezio Auditore da Firenze right from the start. Aside from witnessing his birth and playing him briefly as a newborn, you see him as a seventeen year old nobleman who works for his father, a banker in Florence. He is handsome, a bit of a rogue and he loves his family.

You race with his older brother Frederico, you fetch feathers for his little twelve year old brother Petruccio, you walk his mother through the market, you beat up this jerk who cheated on his sister Claudia, and you run errands for his father. In a short portion of the game, you care about Ezio and his family and get the hang of Ezio's ordinary world.

How this applies to writing: This same technique is used in books. You set the character's ordinary world and you want to do it in a short amount of time. The reader has to care about the main character from the start or a lot of times they'll probably stop reading.

Ezio's Uncle Mario
2.) Awesome Inciting Incident - The inciting incident or what begins the story comes out of nowhere. You get a hint of it when you deliver a message to a suspicious lawyer friend for Ezio's father and get a slight "uh-oh" feeling.

*SPOILERS* Ezio is on his way home when his maidservant tells him his father and brothers have been arrested. He tells the maidservant to take his mother and sister somewhere safe. Ezio races to the scene where he witnesses his father and two brothers hanged and he couldn't stop them. I was saying "No! No! No!" at the screen as I helplessly watched like Ezio. *END OF SPOILERS* Ezio is forced to flee with his mother and sister to his uncle's. Thus starting his journey and making no way for him to turn back.

How this applies to writing: In your book, you want the inciting incident to jump start the story. It should be powerful and exciting. Give the hero a choice to turn back or make it so they can't. Either way the hero's world has to change.

Desmond Miles
3.) Double Plots Done Well - The interesting thing about Assassin's Creed is that two plots go on in each game: what goes on in the Animus and outside of the Animus. While the game focuses primarily on what goes on inside, occasionally you see what goes on on the outside which is the true plot of the game series.

You see Desmond dealing with the benefits and the side effects of being inside the machine and then Ezio proceeding through his story line. The transitions from each story line are smooth and you don't feel like you prefer one over the other. Each plot is separate yet they intertwine beautifully.

How this applies to writing: This taught me about writing from more than one character's point of view. You want to like each character and you want to transition from them smoothly with the flow of the story.

4.) Main Character Arc - Ezio starts out as a reckless, yet still caring seventeen year old boy. As the game progresses over a decade of his lifespan, he grows into a wise, strong man while still staying true to his original personality.

How this applies to writing: You want your character to grow as the story progresses and be different by the end, but you don't want them so different they're not them anymore. I've seen this in a few books where they change the character's personality so much it seems like they're not the same person and often it's the good qualities that go.

The Apple of Eden
5.) Rising Tensions -  With each new mission circumstances became more difficult and it became more and more imperative to reach the prime conspirator and stop his plans. Between finding the Apple of Eden and keeping people safe the plot had nowhere to go but up. They did a good job of building toward the climax and not letting the story backslide.

How this applies to writing: Tensions should continue to rise in books as well. If it doesn't it feel like the tensions are rising the climax can feel stale or too abrupt.

6.) A Satisfying Ending That Keeps You Wanting For More - The story ends in a good place, so it's not a horrible cliffhanger until the next game (like with the first Assassin's Creed), but you have so many questions that you think ...

How this applies to writing: You want to leave loose ends for your reader so they have to find out the answers. To me, this is a far more satisfying instead of an abrupt intense end. Cliffhangers can be just frustrating or sometimes it isn't enough to make you want to read/play/watch the next book/game/movie/show.

You can learn about storytelling in many places. I've found that video games many a time have exceptional storytelling. Assassin's Creed II was definitely one of those games.

Have any video games taught you about writing? Have you played Assassin's Creed and noticed these things?

If you liked this post, come back every Saturday for more writing advice, character interviews, book reviews and more! On Sundays I have Soundtrack Sundays where I post a new score piece, Tuesdays are Tea Tuesdays with tea reviews, Wednesdays I have Wonderful Word Wednesdays where I post a new vocabulary word, and Fridays are Fan Fridays where I post tags and other goodies. To help support my dream to be an author follow this blog, like me on Facebook, watch me on deviantART, and follow me on Pinterest and Twitter. If you want to know more about my books check out them out here. Thank you! :)

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  1. Awesome! I've never played Assassin's Creed (though I've always wanted to), but I love this list, and agree with all the points. (Great use of the Zuko gif by the way.) Even the advertisements and cheat video's for AC are so cool to watch and tell a story in and of themselves. They've always fascinated me.

    1. Thank you. ^ ^ I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's a really fun game. Thank you for commenting!

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