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The Essence of a Good Plot

By Emambu

Perhaps one of the most underrated parts to successful level creation, next to lighting, is the construction a of a sound yet exciting plot. Believe it or not, the plot is critical if you're serious about the level that you're creating. First off, the plot is the first thing that the player will see and without one, or should I say without a good one, the player won't be able to fully comprehend his/her objectives. If the level is for DF (Dark Forces), the player will either read the plot within the text file or in a custom briefing. For JK (Jedi Knight) or MotS (Mysteries of the Sith) the player will either read the plot in a text file or watch it on a cutscene. How you get it across isn't as important as the content that it contains. Remember, a good level will define you as a talented editor. A good plot will define you, not only as a creative writer, but it will also give you the opportunity to carve your own niche in the Star Wars universe.

Hopefully, by this point, I've managed to entice you enough to want to make a good plot for your mission. That's good. The first step to creating a good plot is having the desire to do so. Now the next step is figuring out what to do and what not to do when creating a plot. We'll first start with DF since it came first. However, these rules apply to JK and MotS as well, so don't rule them out. Now, let's just say for the moment that you want to create a DF mission. You have several themes juggling around in your head, and you're curious to see what works and what doesn't. Here are some helpful tips for you to draw from when creating a plot:



Originality
  1. When creating your plot, try not to make your main objectives similar to LEC levels.

    Understandably, this can be one of the hardest things to avoid. This is because LEC has created such a vast array of objectives ranging from stealing plans and metals, to decoding tapes, to blowing up ships and bases, to infiltrating star destroyers, to placing tracking devices on ships, to rescuing hostages, to escaping from prisons, etc. However, you don't have to immediately cut out every objective that's listed above just because LEC thought of it first. For example, let's say you have a level where you want the player to infiltrate an imperial mine, steal a sample of phrink metal, blow the place sky high, and return to your ship. This sounds like a combination of levels 4 & 5 for DF, and consequently doesn't appear to be very thrilling. Now try this:
    Sneak into an imperial mine using the network of abandoned tunnels down below, steal a sample of the alloy that they're producing down there, disable the security systems to keep the place from being locked-down, and then return to your dust-off site.
    Now both of these basically have the same premise, and the same objectives, but which one sounds more interesting to you? Also, if you have an original main objective and you want of one of the sub-objectives to be similar to an LEC level, that's fine too. Example:
    You want to create an insurrection on a planet held by the Empire (main objective). Intelligence believes that rescuing a leader of one of the underground movements might be a key.
    Furthermore, you can do the exact opposite as well. You could have you're main objective to a level be "Blow up the imperial base." However, if the process is completely original then you're still ok. This brings me to my next point...

  2. Don't use items from LEC levels unless it's absolutely necessary.

    We've all rescued Crix Madine and Jan Ors hundreds of time. We've stolen enough Death Star plans, Nava cards, data tapes, and Phrink to choke a Gundark with. We've all destroyed enough Dark Trooper facilities and star destroyers to put a permanent dent in the Imperial Navy. Are catching my pattern? Be creative. If you have to have the player destroy a base, try to make it something other then a DT facility. Rather then stealing Death Plans, how about stealing blueprints for a building, coordinates for a planet, a map of particular area. Also, never use similar methods to achieve a goal, especially if that objective is not an original one. For example, if you want the player to destroy an Imperial base, don't have him/her place sequencer charges into power couplings. Think of another way to blow up a base. Of course, there's the other possibility of simply crippling the base, instead of destroying it outright. The player could cripple the base's power, or security systems, or TIE hangars (to keep them from pursuing you), etc.

  3. Don't over-use characters from LEC levels unless it's necessary.

    Not every level needs to have Dark Troopers in them (and no level should have Mohc in it). The Dark Troopers were destroyed in the Arc Hammer. Unless you can justify it, then your level shouldn't have any DT's. Even the setting for you mission takes place before the destruction of the Arc Hammer, that is not an excuse to place them about haphazardly. DT's should be reserved for only the largest and most important installations, and that's only if you want to place your setting before the Arc Hammer's demise. Otherwise, they shouldn't be in your level, or if they are, then they better be justified in detail. Moff Rebus and the Emperor haven't shown up in too many levels but that doesn't mean that you can just place them wherever you want because of that. Then there's the number one over-used character in add-on missions: Boba Fett. I cannot stress how absolutely annoyed I get when I see him in a level, especially when the author doesn't even explain his appearance. Remember, Boba Fett is a mercenary. He's not contracted to the Empire. Therefore, just because there's an imperial base or ship, or whatever, doesn't give you the excuse to use him. Does this mean that you can never use him? No, although I sure wouldn't mind if people focused away from him for a little while. It is possible to place Boba Fett in your level, but you must give a detailed reason. Lastly, try using someone other then Kyle Katarn as the main character. I know it's more of a moot point since DF doesn't have a third-person viewing. However, using a different hero means that you can expand your story in different ways. Look at the "Ruins of Talos" series. By using someone other then Kyle, the author was able to take off in a different direction, and create one of the best plots for DF.


Realism

This ties in greatly with the first part. While you will want your plot to be original, you must also make sure that there is a certain amount of realism to it. Generally, this means that you shouldn't want to conflict with the SW universe unless you're whole story is based on changing history (i.e. a story based around time travel and the effects of changing history). However, most people seem content with keeping true to George Lucas's universe. Therefore, as you prepare to write your story, try not to go against the established story. (especially if you use main characters like Katarn, Skywalker, Solo, etc.) If you use Katarn, remember that the DT fiasco occurred between ANH and ESB. He didn't become a jedi until seven years after RotJ. Therefore, don't have a mission where Katarn learns the ways of the jedi. If you're story is centered around this premise, use someone other then Katarn. Not only will it be realistic, but it will also be original in that you're using a new character. Actually, one the greatest methods to avoid being unrealistic is to use brand new characters, and use items other then Death Star plans. Introduce us to new planets with their own unique history rather then sticking to the dozen or so that we're all familiar with. If you must use established characters, items, and events then make sure that you research them first. Finally, avoid such blatant and obviously unrealistic things like: don't create a story where the objective is to assassinate established characters. (such as Thrawn, or the Emperor, or Vader, or Luke, etc.) If you're plot takes place before ANH, don't use Dark Troopers. They weren't even invented yet! I'm not even sure what this is called (although I think it's a combination of everything I've been talking about up to this point), but don't ever, ever create a plot like this:
The Emperor has teamed up with Thrawn and Warlord Zinj in an attempt to construct an even bigger and better Death Star. Katarn, we need you break into their fortress, steal the plans, destroy the fortress by placing a sequencer charge into the main reactor coupling, and escape. Oh, and watch out for Boba Fett. He has been hired to guard the fortress.
Now, this may seem like common sense to some but if you actually go and read some of the stories out there, you'd be amazed at how many people fail to understand this basic concept.



Detail

Rather then type about how important detail is in making a good plot, I'm going to use the power of Cut and Paste to show you two different stories from two different levels that each received high marks. Compare them both and see what you're reaction is to them. The first is from "Jungles of Caldoun."
After some excitement on Dantooine recovering forgotten items from the old Rebel base, Kyle enjoys the peace and quiet of a long hyperspace trip to Sullust, where he will drop off his cargo. Since the flight path takes Kyle past the Caldoun system, Kyle looks it up on his computer.

It seems that Caldoun is a backwater system. There is only one habitable planet, which is the fourth from its sun. Caldoun IV is mainly covered with tropical rain forest, but also shows some rough volcanic areas. Native life consists of a wide variety of jungle animals, including the feared Caldoun Wasp, which can spit a highly charged substance at any enemy, even from a distance, and a widespread bipedal intelligent life form who call themselves Mardans, who have a slight resemblance to the well-known Grans, a fact that still puzzles the ethnologists.

While the Mardans have a low level of technology, they do know the arts of creating explosives. They are a fierce people who have learnt the hard way how to survive in a hostile environment. During a brief period of imperial occupation, the Mardans developed weapons, survival skills, and a hatred for anyone not of their own species.

Suddenly an alarm sounds, and red lights start flashing all over the control panel. With a gut wrenching feeling, the ship drops out of hyperspace, and before Kyle has a chance to recover, it reaches the atmosphere. He completely loses control while the Crow approaches the surface of the fourth planet at high speed.

Grateful that the planet has a breathable atmosphere, Kyle decides that he'd best abandon ship. With the Crow already skimming the tops of the trees, he shoves some supplies out the door, hoping to be able to recover them later, and jumps out into a clearing. He watches the Crow disappear in a southerly direction into the jungle, where it triggers a minor earthquake upon impact. Desperately, Kyle tries to raise Jan on Sullust...
This next one is from "Destroy Imperial Supply Depot."
There is no briefing. The title says it all. You must destroy an Imperial Supply Depot.
Now, keep in mind that both of these levels are exceptional as far the actual level is concerned. Both have superior architecture, balanced textures, an enveloping atmosphere, and a high replay value. However, if you had never heard of these levels and wanted to play one, which one would you rather play? Which one entices you more?



Jedi Knight & MotS

Basically, I've boiled this down into one small segment because the points above speak for all three games, and not just DF. Make sure you're plot is original. Now, JK and MotS have some different exceptions. For example, there are no "destroy the base" LEC levels in JK, which means that you can create one if you want, and not have to worry about anal reviewers (like myself) picking apart your plot. Just be original about it. With the advanced JK system, you can create a full fledged reactor that must be destroyed or disabled or whatever you want. There are no "rescue" missions in JK either, so they can be used too. The first "Warzone" level had a spectacular plot revolving around a rescue. However, don't think that you can rehash all the old LEC levels and get away with it. The advanced engine in JK and in MotS enables you to do some things that could you could never do in DF, so be creative. However, JK and MotS have special restrictions as well. Avoid levels that deal with the original seven Dark Jedi, especially Jerec (unless you follow the Dark Path in which case you can use Sariss). Try to avoid levels that focus on jedi/sith temples. Both LEC games revolve around them, and there tons of addon missions based on them as well. Needless to say, the theme is growing very old, very quickly. Make sure that there is a sense of realism to it. This can be especially important here since JK and MotS give the advantage of using Force Powers. Therefore, if you're story takes place before Kyle's journey to the Valley of the Jedi, don't use force powers or include a lightsaber. Fortunately, another advantage given is the advantage of using characters other then Kyle. Even if you're not an artist and cannot make your own skin, you can always borrow from the hundreds of others that are around so there really is no excuse. Lastly, use detail in your plots. Remember the two examples I showed for DF. Well it still applies here. Make the player interested in reading your story. One possibility is to use more than one objective. Another could be using objectives that no one else has thought of (again tying back to being original). Experiment with your ideas to create a plot that best suits you. And, of course, the most important rule when creating a plot is:



Have Fun

Don't panic if you're having trouble thinking of a good story. After all, that's what beta testing is for. You should take all of these above-mentioned rules into consideration, but don't become obsessed about it. Toy around with your ideas for a little while, and try to create something that you like. Then you can submit it for testing and have people comment on it. Take their advice into consideration as well. If they feel that more detail is needed, then look over your story and see where you can add more in. Ultimately, you want to create a story that satisfies both you, and your players. When all is said and done maybe you'll have created a story worthy of being added into the complex SW universe. Good luck, and happy writing!

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