As linear writers make the transition into games or become demented, frothing beasts in the attempt, one of the things they'll need to adjust to is that games aren't very much like films. Even if the game has a plot, the story is likely to unfold through some very unorthodox structures.
Forget film structure; a game's story is just as likely to unfold in a structure that resembles any or several of these:
The game, "Capture the Flag"
Solving a crime, with clues you can seek out in any number of orders
Exploring a landscape and figuring out how to get past the seemingly impassable parts
Accumulating weapons and spells, and calculating which ones serve your needs often on the fly, during battle
Waging a war, including all the strategic elements and the resource-management aspects
Building a city and making sure all its inhabitants have everything they need
A shooting contest
At least a dozen other such interactive structures
Within these structures, can we say something even has a plot?
And so, when working on a game, my colleagues and I frequently stretch our synapses to the breaking point as we riddle ourselves with questions such as:
Which plot information, character insight, character information, or emotional experience is it critical for the player to eventually learn or undergo during the course of the game?
The following examples shed light on what I mean:
Plot information: This city was built on the ruins of another. That one was destroyed so quickly and cataclysmically that the ghosts still yearn for life.
Character insight: Your best friend had been here once before, but never told you. He has met those ghosts.
Emotional experience: You try to defend your friend in a battle, but he gets severely wounded.
Almost any game with even a modicum of a story has many of these "critical bits." And in some games, for instance some RPGs (role-playing games), the number of these critical bits can balloon astronomically.
Once you've created and decided upon your critical information and experience bits, you've got to determine:
Which of these bits need to be revealed by certain points in the game?
Which of these bits need to be revealed sequentially, and which can be revealed non-sequentially?
Which bits have (for instance) just three different places and ways they can be revealed? Is there flexibility in the order? (Meaning, that some bits can be revealed in more than one place, but not in an infinite number of places.)
What different methods can be used to reveal them?
Which of these bits must be experienced by every player, so that they'll even be encountered by players who just want the quickest route through the game?
Which bits are optional, and thus won't be "forced" on players, but instead will be saved for players who want to explore every nook and cranny of the game?
Which bits will be experienced by the person who wants to break every rule and play the game in a very different way than it was designed to be played?
Which bits will be learned, discovered, encountered, or experienced only the second time the player goes through the game, or the third? Which are saved for bonus levels or bonus experiences?
Designers in game company after game company wrestle with these issues. And when the variables really seem overwhelming, especially when it's crunch time and the clock is pushing midnight after a 14-hour day, game designers across the country invariably arrive at the same solution:
"Let's take a break and order pizza."