subject: Story game development process and new challenges Lecturer: Hyo-Taek Kim – Growing Seeds / CEO Presentation area: development, planning Lecture time: 2021.11.18 (Fri) 10:00 ~ 10:50 Lecture Summary: Hyo-taek Kim, CEO of Growing Seeds, is leading MazM, one of the representative brands of story games. He explained how MazM became obsessed with story games based on classic literature like Jekyll and Hyde. In addition, after carefully expressing the traces of his worries by expressing that he did not only walk on the flowery road, he continued his in-depth lectures on the direction MazM and the story game should move forward.
■ What is a story game? – Types and features of story games
There are many game companies that want to make story games. Large corporations have also shown moves in the past, such as providing story games such as ‘Gray City’. Good examples of storytelling and story games have been steadily coming out from the past. Then, what is a game with storytelling, that is, a story game, what limitations and concerns, and what direction did MazM establish?
There are so many different genres in story games. A typical example that comes to mind is a visual novel. This is a case where the focus is on the psychological description of the character. It deals with various things such as dating simulations and detectives. The dialogue progress is the main mechanic, and depending on the user’s choice, various endings can be seen. It can be said that the genre has strengths in storytelling.
The inspiration for MazM’s early days was a game called ‘To the Moon’. It is a game that emphasizes the adventure element in the existing storytelling element. You can literally move around the world. These things give a sense of space and give users a deep sense of immersion. CEO Kim Hyo-taek said that he created a brand called MazM around 2015 after playing To the Moon for the first time and realizing that a game can be great just with a story.
There are also interactive dramas. The Last of Us, Detroit: Become Human, Beyond to Souls, and Heavy Rain are representative examples, mainly console titles and Triple-A games. These games are treated as 3D photorealistic graphics rather than dots or 2D, and motion graphics are included, giving a realistic feel. It also utilizes QuickTime Events (QTEs) to lift objects or engage in battles for added immersion. For storytelling, various endings are provided through diverging dialogues, or several story points that are difficult to return once passed are used to increase the quality and quantity of content.
There are also story games that started from the question of whether it should be more specialized for mobile. In Korea, story games, such as ‘Suspicious Messenger’, that can be enjoyed lightly on mobile and feel immersive, are also popular. In particular, in terms of BM, there are games that have achieved good results by resolving difficulties in selling story content on mobile through selective branch purchases. They also use cutscenes between conversations to explain the situation in more detail.
It may seem far from storytelling, but the oldest is text adventure. It can be said to be the same genre as the interactive book of the past, which leads the game through language. CEO Kim Hyo-taek cited Banjiha Games’ ‘Seoul 2033’ as an example. Although the graphics are not flashy or there is no world in the game, if you read the text as if you were reading a novel, you will have options and depending on the result, you will have to start over from the beginning.
As such, there are so many different fields in story games, and the interest in them is increasing on multiple platforms.
CEO Kim Hyo-taek thought lightly when he first entered the field of story games. I thought that a story game could be composed just by telling the story. But when I started, I started to have more and more troubles. There are so many different genres, it’s about which way to go within them.
In story games, the game characteristics represented by dialogue between characters, various choices and branches, multi-endings, collection elements or achievements that often appear, suitability of mini-games, QTE, etc. are important. But if you ask if these are the essence, CEO Kim Hyo-taek said no.
The most important thing is the character, he explained. Users like to dig deep into the story little by little, and in the process, the character naturally stands out and stays in the memory for a long time. He cited as an example the remarks of Japanese character masters who said, ‘The story disappears, but the characters remain’.
Coming back, CEO Kim said that setting the character three-dimensionally and making it attractive is the key to developing a story game. In fact, he added that the game that had been deeply concerned about the character and story in the early stages of game development received more love from users.
■ Worrying, worrying again – Limitations of story games and concerns of MazM
MazM has consistently developed story games based on classic masterpieces. Classic masterpieces are free IPs, but they are not often used in games. If you look at the story alone, it’s not the best, but it has a strong feeling of being old-fashioned. However, it is consistently used well in movies and musicals. It was based on that idea that led to the start of MazM. I decided to make a story game based on the idea that I didn’t have the power to create a plot like a classic masterpiece.
Fortunately, users responded well. Jekyll and Hyde has become a game that supports 16 languages with 4.5 million downloads, and The Phantom of the Opera is recording 1 million downloads.
It was ‘Pechka’ that made the first original story. It is a story created by MazM based on the history of the independence movement in Primorye, and all the characters appearing are original characters. CEO Kim Hyo-taek explained that he thought that this game would show interest only in Korea because it contained the story of the loss of the country during the Japanese colonial era, but the response abroad was better. Here, he said that he realized that if the story itself was interesting, he could be loved by users regardless of the region or country of origin.
MazM’s goal was to continuously develop story games related to various fields based on literary works. It might be too serious, but I realized that if the story was interesting, the response would be good. The story that can look back on our lives is the direction MazM has set for itself. He also said that he is continuing his efforts for an ‘impact game’.
There were always concerns along the way. Through self-evaluation, MazM found that their games were downloaded a lot and had high user interest, but they also found out that ‘no money’. I heard that if other genre games had the same number of downloads as MazM’s games, they would have earned 10 times more.
According to CEO Kim’s analysis, as the mobile market revolves around free games, the content of games that enjoy stories is finite and does not fit with the repeat purchase system. Billing users accounted for about 2% of the total users.
In response, CEO Kim Hyo-taek posed a question to the team members about whether it would be okay as it is, and confirmed that there were more opinions about making a more diverse and fun game.
When evaluated internally, existing MazM games had an excessively large amount of text. Translation was very difficult and costly. Finding local freelance translators to cut costs, or to translate into new languages thanks to fandom’s resources. There was also a concern that fans might stay away from their games because of such a vast text. There seemed to be an image that ‘MazM games are all about moving, talking, moving and talking every day’.
In the past, I thought story games were like that, but CEO Kim explained that I think differently these days. In novels and movies, not only dialogue, but also setting or scene descriptions, contextual explanations, etc. With this flow, ‘Is it all about dialogue in storytelling, or isn’t the vast amount of text limiting the various experiences of users and the fun of the game? And I’ve been contemplating whether or not this is limiting the scalability of the game.
MazM started looking at storytelling from other companies. There were many games that had excellent storytelling ability even though there was little text. I also felt how large the area occupied by the visual was. There are a lot of games with stories, so I could feel that a variety of storytelling methods were possible.
Typically, it can be done through text, that is, conversation. In addition, it was possible both visually and through music. He also cited music as one of the reasons why Jekyll and Hyde received a lot of attention. He explained that the field of storytelling that humans perceive with the ears is very wide, and, for example, it is less scary to watch a horror movie with your ears closed.
Storytelling is also possible with game mechanics. Virtually every element in the game enabled storytelling. After these thoughts, MazM and CEO Kim came to the conclusion that they should make a bold attempt to break free from the past tied to the limitations and stereotypes of the genre of story games.
Then, since every game has a story, I thought about whether all of these are story games. Accordingly, CEO Kim decided to classify it as a story game if other elements of the game are used for storytelling, and a different game if the element of fun is elsewhere and the story supports it.
■ What are you going to do next? – MazM’s future ‘hidden fun’ and ‘a life worth living’
Based on the above concerns, MamZ decided on its own mission. ‘Creating a world full of hidden fun’. The keyword of hidden fun is the key. If you look at adventure games or games that users dig deep into, fun elements come out like a pollen even if you keep playing. Therefore, MazM also decided on a key keyword in the sense of creating a game that users can continuously play with.
I wrote the expression “value” for what kind of message to put into the game. It was concluded that it was necessary to contain the message. Because the moment you decide to play a story game, the story always has a theme, and even though it’s comical on the outside, there’s a seriousness in it. As a result of deliberation, the value of ‘a strange space, a compelling story, and a worthwhile life’ was decided. It was the will to put a story that can think about our lives in the story in the game.
‘Thy Creature’ under development this time has its roots in the classic literature called Frankenstein. Even if we fail, we decided to stick to the idea of trying something new from this game.
The pre-production process itself is similar for all games, but is especially important for story games. In the development of Thy Creature, for up to 4 months, he tried various things and made a prototype and tested it a lot. And this game aimed to reduce the text more than Jekyll and Hyde.
The direction of the story was also slightly changed. Most of the contents that used Frankenstein tell the story from the point of view of the scientist and creator Victor Frankenstein, and MazM’s choice was to look at the position of a creature, a monster.
Everyone has a wound inside. I thought I’d deal with this. As a result, the team members gathered and talked about the inner wounds they had. If they had one thing in common, they all had only scars left and no memory of why the wounds were created. Thy Creature tells the story of how we deal with our inner wounds.
In addition to the original, the worldview itself decided to add the story of the abandoned monster climbing the tower to meet the creator. In the process, all the people I meet have internal wounds and have lost their memories. Those wounds were set for each boss. The only way to beat the boss is to find all the memories.
A barrage was used as the game mechanism. It was meant to express painful wounds, starting with the fact that it hurts when you get hit by a barrage. The attack function was not given to the user. For people, inner trauma is too heavy to fight. The way to accept this and overcome it is to find the memory.
CEO Kim explained that bullets do not go well with story games. So MazM did not maximize the fun of the barrage mechanism itself in this game. The identity of MazM is because it is a story game and a team that values balance with the story.
There is another challenge case. It is a spin-off of Jekyll and Hyde with a game called ‘Hide and Seek’. At the time of the Jekyll and Hyde incident, I started with the idea that there were other people chasing Hyde. In this game, I borrowed the form of a board game to show stealth, action, and chase that cannot be properly expressed in an interactive game. What sets it apart from similar games is that it was used as a way to improve storytelling rather than focusing on the intrinsic fun of card or board games.
As such, MazM has reached a point where it starts from the standard of story games based on classic literature and continues to worry about game mechanics to strengthen the story. Even after leaving behind a lot of trouble, MazM and CEO Kim introduced their desire to become a game company that makes good story games. He concluded the lecture with a determination to become a team that continues to make various attempts, saying that he will continue to try to convey the story like a brand image made with a book image.