How to Design a Game Storyboard
By Richard Kalinowski
Updated September 22, 2017
Game storyboarding is vital to the development stage of any modern-day gaming project. Even if you’ve got the game’s plot perfectly mapped out in your head, it must be produced as a hardcopy storyboard to better communicate your ideas to the your development team, the U.S. Copyright Office and potential distributors. Storyboarding an entire game can be time consuming, but the process doesn’t have to be overly difficult if you follow the right steps.
Draw with pencil and paper first and transfer to the computer later. Initial storyboarding requires rough sketches that are meant to be altered later as the game designer works out the kinks in the plot. Though design will take place on the computer later, hand-drawn initial sketches are less time-consuming and therefore represent a quick way to get initial ideas on paper. When looking at behind-the-scenes resources from Blizzard Entertainment, producer of Diablo, Starcraft and Warcraft series games, it becomes apparent that even this gaming powerhouse uses concept sketches early on (see Resources).
Start with character designs. Though many first-time developers focus on the game’s story entirely, a storyboard is more than just plot. The International Academy of Design and Technology in Seattle explains “storyboard creators design basic character sketches” in addition to creating plot outlines. Detailed character sketches will help you work out major visual details prior to creating your plot. Carefully drawn initial character sketches also allow you some leeway to be less character-detailed with the storyboard action frames, making the whole process go faster.
Sketch sample action frames for all major plot points. This is where the storyboard chronicles the actual story of the game. Visually appealing action must be sketched, but supplemental dialogue or less intense action can be simply explained with a written sidebar. A good example of an action frame with written sidebar directives can be found at FineGameDesign.com’s “Game Script and Storyboard Creation” (see Resources). Note how the sidebar example at FineGameDesing.com simply explains that the thunderstorm pictured will subside rather than showing it frame by frame on a visual storyboard. Make sure the game’s full plot is storyboarded either visually or via textual sidebars before moving on to effects and actual game design.
Use the written sidebar explained in Step 4 for explanation of virtual camera angles, special sound effects and other non-visual cues.
Design rudimentary versions of key characters and scenes with a computer graphics program to supplement your hand-drawn action frames. Sketches are the best way to start, but you also need a brief sample of the in-game design to complete any storyboard package.
Richard Kalinowski began writing professionally in 2006. He also works as a website programmer and graphic designer for several clients. Kalinowski holds a Master of Fine Arts from Goddard College and a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.