I’ve talked about Worldbuilding and the Chapter, and we’re drilling down into the fine details. I mentioned that my process operates from both ends, and this is the central point. I wanted to drill down from top to bottom first, before I explain how all the pieces become my process.
Experiences are made up of moments. A moment is a flash, a single fragment of an event. It’s a witty bit of repartee, a dramatic line, or a masterful bass drop. It’s the thirty seconds or so it takes to walk up and pick up the Master Sword at the end of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
Movie trailers are made up of moments. If you feel like you’ve seen an entire movie after having watched the trailer, it’s likely because the moments selected to show off in the trailer give you all the context you need.
Sometimes a moment is external to the production, but still part of the experience. While the statue of limitations is up on Bioshock, I’m still going to be oblique. If you’ve played the game, you know what I’m talking about here. For everyone else, this paragraph should be spoiler-free. There’s no particular *moment* in Bioshock, if you actually look at events that unfold, but nearly everyone who’s played it remembers a moment, that moment where all of the context they’ve been presented at that point crystallizes into something that makes sense. It’s powerful, and part of the expert craftsmanship of that game is that the moment can occur at different times for different people, and the game allows it. For some, Bioshock’s moment is revealed a few moments prior to the confrontation, and the confrontation is merely confirmation. Either way, the moment is equally powerful.
The key to a successful Moment is context. I differentiate the capital M this way: an experience is made up of moments, but a Moment is the one you remember. The battles against orcs in the Mines of Moria are moments, but Gandalf falling to the Balrog is a Moment.
Let me go back to the Master Sword example, in A Link to the Past. Here’s a video (main part starts at about 45 seconds):
You’ve spent some time collecting amulets from dungeons, then you’ve worked your way through a haunted forest in order to reach the Master Sword, which you need in order to break a magic barrier preventing you from reaching Princess Zelda, after you took up your uncle’s sword to stop an evil wizard. Drawing the Master Sword is a key moment of the story, and it’s what you’ve probably spent hours working up to. The game shows you the barrier straightaway, and it will zap you if you get too close. The amulets all have dungeons, with bosses, and the events leading you to collect them all involve their own Moments, whether those are the boss fights, the brief transition into the Dark World, or discovering new, exciting items. The Master Sword has been set up as a key item in the game, and collecting it is, appropriately, a Moment.
You’ve made your way through the Lost Woods, the haunted forest full of baddies, dealing with the maze and some annoying and dangerous enemies. Note the swooping raven-bird that attacks the player partway through the video. It takes a hit, but keeps on coming. We’ll get back to that later.
When Link enters the last section of forest, with the Master Sword, it’s a haunted section of forest, but unlike the rest, it’s full of forest creatures that run around as you approach, unlike anything else in the game thus far. It’s different, and marks that this section is special, somehow. When Link approaches the Master Sword, it’s on a fantastic pedestal, with an inscription that can be read if the player so desires. When Link steps up to take the sword, it’s not a simple “open chest, get item” moment, the amulets float around him, then grant him the power to draw it as the music rises. With a flash, the sword is drawn, it glows with power, and the Lost Woods goes from being haunted and misty to bright and green, which lasts for the rest of the game. While simple, it’s a powerful Moment that sticks with you.
The Master Sword scene is a giant payoff for the entire first section of the game. It’s a Moment an and of itself, but the game continues to emphasize the Master Sword as important for quite some time. First, extremely notably, Link gets the ability to shoot spinning blade beams from it while at full health, and the sword hits harder– those birds that were so annoying in the previous forest section now only take one hit. The payoff is immediate and lasting, and more than simply a neat scene that doesn’t alter gameplay.
I’ll talk more later about building a Moment, and talk about the kinds of things I’d look at building for the setting and chapter I spoke about previously, but this has gone on a bit long. More next time!