Stuck for a story? Go for the public domain
You’ve got the perfect game mechanic. It’s unique, it’s fun and you’re ready to set about creating a massive blockbuster. The only trouble is, your game needs a plot and you’re fresh out of creative juice. Not every small development team or one-man-band has the time to sit around writing a fully fleshed-out story-line to go along with their game but a captivating narrative can be key to the success of your game. What can you do? Take a story that already exists and make it your own!
The original works of Shakespeare, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and many other writers are in the public domain. This means their copyright has expired (or never existed) and you are free to base your game on their work. You’ll need to be careful not to accidentally copy another derivative work (a retelling of the story by someone like Disney for example) but ultimately the original works can be a great launchpad if you’re struggling to come up with your own story.
A comprehensive list of public domain works is pretty much impossible, if you throw in real-life historical events the number of available stories becomes practically infinite. However, tvtropes.org have come up with a good list here, and Project Gutenberg lists thousands of free-to-use stories in the English language. Big name titles include the original texts of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Gulliver’s Travels, Romeo and Juliet, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Moby Dick, Beowulf and Oliver Twist.
There’s no need to feel guilty about giving yourself a head start, game developers are already using this amazing resource to their advantage. Cinders by MoaCube is a beautiful and hugely popular visual novel based on the public domain folk tale “Cinderella“. Alternatively, you might take a completely different (read: less serious) approach and come up with something more like Little Red Riding Hood’s Zombie BBQ, which is also based on a fairy tale.
Public domain works can be the inspiration you need to finish up a well-formed project, or they can be the basis for an entire game when you’re going through a creative dry spell. The possibilities are practically endless, so keep this in mind next time you’re staring at a blank screen racking your brain for a good story!