Meet Yoko Taro.
Yes, he basically always wears the Emil mask as he doesn’t like to show his face in public…ironically within his GDC talk which I’m going to be writing about he’s not wearing his mask, although he did ask for people not to record or take photos…I guess he forgot GDC panels are all filmed and uploaded to the internet but enough about the mask let’s get into it.
Yoko Taro is a Japanese game designer and scenario writer, known mostly for creating the cult hit Drakengard series and most recently the highly anticipated and unanimously praised NieR: Automata. Taro is known for his stories being dark and convoluted with numerous story lines intertwining to create the game world in which the player inhabits. While I’d love to go to deconstruct what makes his games so good ill save that for another time. Today’s piece I want to focus on Taro’s unique way of storytelling and how he is able to weave so much life and emotion into his tales.
So you may be thinking “Adam, this is literature not game design, why should we listen to Yoko Taro?” to which I would respond “Because the mans a genius when it comes to telling dark stories that evoke true emotion within his audience in a market oversaturated with first person shoot them up murder simulators devoid of any feeling other than, ‘Gee my kill to death ratio is super swell’.” Don’t get me wrong sometimes I love switching my brain off and blasting away hordes of monsters with my chainsaw gun but sometimes I also love to be completely engaged snd immerse my self within a fictional world of wonder, and immersing his audience in intrinsic intertwining stories Is something Yoko Taro has seemingly mastered. So let’s look how Taro manages to do this consistently on his projects. It all starts with the way he approaches story telling.
I’m sure at one time in your life you’ve been reading a book, watching a movie or TV show or even playing a game where a moment that is supposed to be impactful happens and you just sit there thinking, “I really don’t care”. This Is due to poor storytelling, something Yoko Taro has been able to overcome.
Taro gave a great talk a GDC2016 (game developers conference), his talk titled “creating weird games for weird people” in which he details the method to his madness. Taro tells his audience that when he wants to write a story he doesn’t just start writing characters or scenarios he writes down what emotion he wants to convey. Let’s use his own example with this which was a breakdown of his game NieR. The first feeling Taro wants the player to feel is sadness. But how do we make someone feel sad? Let’s make them sad by killing someone. But why would we feel sad if someone dies? Maybe this person was innocent? Maybe they were having a special day? So let’s make the person who dies a young woman on her wedding day. Already you can see where this is leading right? With this kind of story layering Taro gives us a reason to give a crap about what’s going on. We want to care about this young woman, we have been shown why the day was so important to her and I think Taro has tapped into our subconscious by using certain troupes like the young innocent woman. When someone is innocent yet treated so badly we extinctively want to see the wrong be righted. Wanting this wrong to be righted fuels us to continue on the journey and in return we are met with more emotions and reasons to give a crap about these characters and stories.
Taro calls this method of constantly layering story elements “Backward Scriptwriting” where we start with an emotion and work our way back as to why we would feel this emotion. These reasons are then placed throughout the game. Taro does this multiple times, layering emotions and reasons to why we would feel these emotions until a fully-fledged world is created.
An example of one emotional peak and its reasoning.
And an example of a complete games story.
If you would like to see this great talk for yourself just click here or the link under his picture at the top and give it a watch, if you’re interested in storytelling at all then it should be a good watch.