Just the other day I was talking to the Creative Director at a successful development studio. He was telling me about a rough idea for a game. Although the details of the game were still a long way from coming together, nonetheless his company was committed to making the game. They already had a publisher.
Now, to tell this story, I've got to change a lot of details about the game's story, locations, weapons, and so on, but I'll give an analogous example. He bounced his game off me, and I spent ten minutes giving him some ideas.
His game (let's say) involves evil, giant, intelligent crab-like creatures who live under the surface of the ocean's floor. Although not human in appearance, they are as smart as men and have evolved a sophisticated culture. A volcanic eruption has broken through the ocean's crust, and now these are swarming into the ocean, preparing for a land invasion.
You play an oceanographic researcher who stumbles upon this emerging danger. Using what you know, you fashion weapons based on some of the offensive and defensive systems used by sting rays, jellyfish, and octopi.
You capture one of the weapons of the enemy at one point and use it in an emergency situation. It's not the only weapon you could use at that point, but it's the best one for the job.
You don't realize that the weapon itself is alive. For these creatures, weapons are part of their family and have responsibilities to the family. The weapon you stole actually spies on your weapons and transmits what it learns to the enemy.
As a result, one of your own weapons is compromised, for the enemy can now build a defense. (The weapon you lose is your poisonous tentacle weapon, based on jellyfish.) So, for a short-term advantage (stealing one of their weapons), you now pay a long-term penalty.
This was my first round of ideas. They handled one issue regarding tying the story to gameplay: I merged the undersea story with sea-related weapons.
I also added some emotional complexity to the plot by having the original advantage poised by the creature's weapon turn into a disadvantage.
However, the story and gameplay still weren't merged nearly enough in my mind. So I suggested that the character you play is the kind of guy who got into oceanographic research because he likes isolation; he doesn't have a very high regard for people. And now that he's fighting these undersea creatures, he's inclined to do it alone.
We'd incentivize this behavior by having a couple people, at the start of the game, act rudely to him by mocking his research. We'd learn that your character has endured a lifetime of this kind of abuse. This way you, the player, don't break your bond with your character when you learn he prefers isolation. After all, when these NPCs mock him, they're in effect mocking you too. (See Chapter 2.19, "Role Induction Techniques.")
Much of the game takes place under water, where there are fish. Fish swim in schools. I suggested that there should be schools of fish we see periodically throughout the game and they will be the symbol of what your character (and you, the player) need to learn to act willingly as part of a group. (See Chapter 2.23, "Enhancing Emotional Depth Through Symbols.") They'd appear whenever you had a decision to make regarding whether to go it alone or work with others.
Ultimately, to fight the invaders from under the seabed, you'll need to work with some allies. Like fish, you'll need to leave your isolation behind and, metaphorically, swim with your school. (See Chapter 2.20, "First-Person Character Arc Techniques.") Some of your new allies will be humans, one will be an enemy who has changed sides, and even some sea creatures will lend a hand. The more you work with others, the more success you'll have.
Each ally helps in their own way either by assisting in battle (an octopus helps you escape behind an ink shield, or a stingray lets you ride on his back as you attack). The humans help in more traditional ways.
In the end, you will have found your own school of fish, so to speak. That is, you will no longer be an isolationist.
So now the story and gameplay are integrated in a number of ways:
In my conversation with the Creative Director, I focused on a number of areas, but primarily on creating a story, a First-Person Character Arc, and gameplay mechanics that all tied together.
My friend, the Creative Director, was delighted with the direction of these suggestions. He thanked me in what perhaps might be the nicest way possible he hired me on the spot to work on the game. I've already begun.