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How Games Tell Stories

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Abhorsen 12th March 2010, 10:46 Quote
Someone had a mare with their [i] tags :P
barrkel 12th March 2010, 10:57 Quote
A problem with heavy plot line is that it makes games feel linear and controlling - there needs to be compensatory openness in the gameplay at a tactical level. The Thief series - 1 and 2 in particular - hit this solidly. The cutscenes were atmospheric enough, and the lead character Garrett charmingly cynical enough, that one wanted to *be* that character - but the game still let you feel freedom, as roaming over the levels and stealing the required bits was not a linear experience. GTA 4 and Far Cry are similarly good, though the cheesiness of Far Cry's story - and those damn jumping monsters - didn't help it at all.

HL2 and friends, on the other hand, are particularly problematic. Not only is the story forced from without, but the lead character never says anything! He feels like a dumb mute brute, hired muscle, even though he allegedly has a PhD. And the gameplay doesn't compensate - it's so linear and predictable. Whenever I play HL2 and successors, I was constantly walking past interesting nooks and thinking to myself - I should investigate that in a moment, after I see where the main path goes. Then I follow the main path, and see it's a dead end. I had to double back and investigate the nook anyhow, *mandatorily*, completely killing my motivation to explore, and killing my reward circuit for feeling clever with myself. And then there are the Doom 3-esque "surprises" where zombies get up, pop out, etc., in a really predictable fashion. God I hate HL2 and sequels.
Digi 12th March 2010, 11:12 Quote
Call me a shallow gamer but I have never taken much more than a passing interest in the stories of games I play. Sure it brings things together if the story is coherent but it's the game itself which is what I am therefore. Generally.

The only exceptions to these rules are HL and Portal. In Portal I got sucked right into the world discovering the cubby holes where people had 'lived' or been before and wanting to know more about the empty offices etc.
Blademrk 12th March 2010, 11:29 Quote
I still remember playing the 7th Guest when CD-ROMS first came out (especially the sound track which was awesome and came on the 2nd disc) - Even though it wasn't much of a game I still have very fond memories of playing it and the story it told (unfortunately I lent it to someone and never got it back many years ago).
yakyb 12th March 2010, 11:51 Quote
I'm glad you mentioned FF7 and aeris as that as a story hit me harder than any book or film has ever done as i think hte bond i felt with cloud (a moody teenager) helped me feel for aeris.

one topic that i think i s the future of gaming Story lines is the MMO where by you essentially create the story yourself. games such as Mortal online (whilst still very much a beta) allow you to forge your own LOTR adventure not held back by the mechanics of WoW and the specific methods of killing bosses, the eventual grind that forces players to essentially play for the same end game.

FF8 ( and 9 to a lesser extent) also had the story spot on however 10 10.2 and 12 lost this i felt
Portal i think was the perfect example of a Game version of a 10 page short story with massive twists.(when i first played it i thought i had done something awesome by not burning) only realising 2 minutes later that that is what you where meant to have done

story telling has gone a little stale as of late in both movies and games where each is just s rewrite of a previous situation, in an attempt to throw something out at minimal cost (sequels require little investment other than effects) that makes maximum profit.

i'll maintain that nothing has had me gripped like FF7 did and i hope for the day that something comes along that does
CardJoe 12th March 2010, 13:09 Quote
Not a single mention of Monkey Island?

I wash my hands of this!

not really, obv
StoneyMahoney 12th March 2010, 13:26 Quote
Conventional media doesn't require any interaction from the user to drive the storyline beyond turning pages or staring at a screen. Computer games require user action to advance the plot, thus adding the complexities of planning for a user's actions in advance and arbitarily restricting their actions so they can't stray outside the pre-programmed scenario. Better integration of gameplay and storyline will most likely require procedurally generated events to drive them. Many of the plot devices and scripting ploys employed in conventional media could be implemented procedurally, combined with an open world scenario and a library of pre-programmed events that can have their major elements altered to suit the situation. The result would be very much like a paper and pencil RPG in it's structure and play.

The game world as defined by it's authors would be experienced by the players from a random or pre-chosen character's perspective as events take place. Bigger events tend to work well in defining the overall structure - wars, natural disasters, famines, plagues etc. - while the details are generated to fit the situation the player is in, along with the characters they currently control, and final outcome of the event altered by the player's actions. Once that character's storyline is completed, there's nothing to stop the game assimilating it into it's world data and starting a new game with the consequences of that previous story integrated into the situation. The game would very quickly diversify very widely for everyone who played it, but with the same events taking place in those differing situations.

That would be my perfect game - semi-open ended, semi-scripted.
mi1ez 12th March 2010, 14:17 Quote
Fantastic article, really insightful.
emilyface 12th March 2010, 14:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Not a single mention of Monkey Island?

I wash my hands of this!

not really, obv

You and your bloody Monkey Island, Joe. Why don't you just marry it if you want to read about it so much?*

*This sentence almost makes sense if you don't care about logic or reason or sense
emilyface 12th March 2010, 14:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by mi1ez
Fantastic article, really insightful.

Cheers, mi1ea, and cheers to Alex Watson who really ought to get a bloody shout out for his help.
skunkmunkey 12th March 2010, 14:55 Quote
I actually enjoyed Phantasmogoria, yes I even bought the second one too. Looking back though I think its because I was 12 at the time and it was pretty brutal. I also was taken in by the whole "movies on a cd" thing and it was something to show off to my mates who didnt have a pc at the time.I have tried to replay phantasmogoria since and found it quite painful to play.
kenco_uk 12th March 2010, 15:48 Quote
I think the first cinematic/film-like game I played was Another World. Pretty awesome at the time (and not too shabby today, even though it can be played through in less than 12 minutes). The story was great, from the test sequence to flying off with your new friend.

Any game tells a story, but engaging ones tend to be when the game relinquishes control from you and forces you to watch/listen and take in a form of plot. It could be when your character stops and remarks about something in their environment (Monkey Island) or, more often than not, an NPC sparks to life and rambles on about something. Even a game like Tomb Raider does it.
Ending Credits 12th March 2010, 15:55 Quote
Personally I feel the problem with narrative in games is that baseing the story on player choices is inherently difficult due to the huge multiples of paths the players choices could lead them down. The only way around this is to fix the player to one path but give them the illusion of control, for example, instead of a cinematic death sequence the game might send the player into a massive firefight that they will eventually die from (as senn in CoD4 or FC2 which are just two examples) or by having a wide open world but giving little incentive to explore.
badders 12th March 2010, 16:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
I think the first cinematic/film-like game I played was Another World. Pretty awesome at the time (and not too shabby today, even though it can be played through in less than 12 minutes). The story was great, from the test sequence to flying off with your new friend.

Any game tells a story, but engaging ones tend to be when the game relinquishes control from you and forces you to watch/listen and take in a form of plot. It could be when your character stops and remarks about something in their environment (Monkey Island) or, more often than not, an NPC sparks to life and rambles on about something. Even a game like Tomb Raider does it.

Damn you Kenco, you've now got me watching Flashback Speedruns.
OWNED66 12th March 2010, 18:05 Quote
this article really made me think of games that i have played in the past

the most game the shock me to my core was pac man it was one of the most heroic characters i have ever seen and story line was just out of this world
Hovis 12th March 2010, 18:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ending Credits
Personally I feel the problem with narrative in games is that baseing the story on player choices is inherently difficult due to the huge multiples of paths the players choices could lead them down. The only way around this is to fix the player to one path but give them the illusion of control, for example, instead of a cinematic death sequence the game might send the player into a massive firefight that they will eventually die from (as senn in CoD4 or FC2 which are just two examples) or by having a wide open world but giving little incentive to explore.

I agree with this. Freedom in games creates massive problems with narrative structure that no other art form has ever had to deal with, so no wonder it's taking time for games to get a handle on it. So far I think that only really Mass Effect has truly managed to get a handle on allowing the player freedom within a structured narrative. Other games have tried, but they often fail to really get to grips with a players actions in a game. The Mass Effect games don't offer so much freedom that you can break the story, but they offer enough that you shape the character within the boundaries of the story. Dragon Age did similar though not quite as convincingly.

What ultimately has to happen for games with freedom and narrative to really exist is writers need to appear who are able to handle the medium, and let's face it, it's the toughest medium to write for. No novel or film ever has to deal with multiple strands in the same way as a game. When we have games writers as good as David Simon or the Coen Brothers at work then we might really see what games stories can be. I mean they are already often great, so who knows how great they might yet become.
frontline 12th March 2010, 20:16 Quote
I still have Phantasmagoria - A Puzzle of Flesh next to my PC, 4 CD's worth of FMV telling 'A psychological horror story of madness, murder and the blackest depths of the human soul..."

No, it isn't a tale about IW and the missing dedicated servers from MW2
ViPPeR_666 12th March 2010, 21:35 Quote
Just for the record, Chet Faliszek is the guy who owns a steam account valued on U$11.5k

http://www.ddgamer.com/worth.php?account=76561197968575517

PS: No wonder since he's a Valve employee lol
Sloth 12th March 2010, 22:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by yakyb

one topic that i think i s the future of gaming Story lines is the MMO where by you essentially create the story yourself. games such as Mortal online (whilst still very much a beta) allow you to forge your own LOTR adventure not held back by the mechanics of WoW and the specific methods of killing bosses, the eventual grind that forces players to essentially play for the same end game.
Oh joy, another Mortal player! :D
You've got an excellent point about sandbox games and story creation, rather than story telling. An example being SimCity. You start on a huge map and start shaping your city, and as you go a story is developed. That flood which wiped out your entire industrial district, when you made the fire department so angry because of budget cuts, that one really cool looking and rare building which you treasured so much, and that one road which was the first you built and now gets 100 cars per minute of traffic! In some respects it's a far deeper and richer story than any game can tell.
Elton 13th March 2010, 00:52 Quote
SimCity! Yes indeed, it was the small achievements that you did and the gradual progress that made it so satisfying.
Evenge 13th March 2010, 01:04 Quote
Nice article. I have noticed nowadays it take's both story and good game play to make me play the game to the end. If either one turns out to be dull or boring I usually lose my interest to finish the game.
metarinka 13th March 2010, 05:12 Quote
I think the very subtle difference is that in a book or story, you're passive. and only certian parts of you're brain are working. you "soak up" the story. In a game however slightly you are active and you DO the story or at least walk, push, open, or advance through it.

That alone is a big difference.

I think it makes for a "different" experience not better or worse. and in many ways video games and the technology are still developing.

However some of the most powerful moments for me in video games are the parts where you DO it. for instance killing the colossi in shadow of the collusus I mean you're riding up and down a giant monster and they never once really started the attack. and you don't find out till the end why you are really killing them.

like wise in MGS snake eater, can't think of the boss now, but it was one of the final ones where it was sorta a cut scene where you had to finally hit the trigger button to execute them.

or in the end of hitman blood money where you get to experience you're own funeral. and can choose to wake up, or just die.
metarinka 13th March 2010, 05:17 Quote
*edit* the fight I'm thinking about is "the boss" in MSG:3 where you have to kill her unarmed at the very end. Sad but powerful moment.
WCG 13th March 2010, 15:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by metarinka
I think the very subtle difference is that in a book or story, you're passive. and only certain parts of you're brain are working. you "soak up" the story. In a game however slightly you are active and you DO the story or at least walk, push, open, or advance through it.

Exactly. Frankly, I think that many mainstream developers have been misled by the superficial resemblance of games to movies. Movies are passive and linear. Like books, they're a great medium for telling a story. But games are not. Games aren't passive, and linearity inherently conflicts with player choice (the more choice, the poorer medium for storytelling, and vice versa).

IMHO, it's the wrong direction for games to try to tell a story. Instead, games should make it possible for every player to create his own "story." This might be a subtle distinction, since the game developer would still create the setting, the NPCs, the rules, the AI - everything that allows the gameworld to be filled with "stories." But although the beginning of these stories would be created by the developer, the middle and the end would not. The player would discover, and probably influence, many of these stories, but not all of them. And the overall "story" would be based on his actions.

If you're really bored, I wrote about this in more detail here:

http://garthright.blogspot.com/2010/03/role-playing-games-arent-movies.html

Yeah, I know it's not a new idea. But it's new enough that we're only at the very beginning of creating games like this. Such games as Dwarf Fortress, Aurora, Mount&Blade, UnReal World, etc. are taking important steps in that direction, but so far, these are only baby steps. Well, we've got to crawl before we can walk - or run.

PS. I might also point out the popularity of after-action reports - often humorous ones - from many different games these days. What's that but people creating their own stories? And even in some mainstream games, like Daggerfall or Morrowind, many players completely ignored the storyline - the main quest - in favor of exploration and various mini-quests. Again, these are only baby steps. It will take some considerable effort to do this idea justice.
Xir 16th March 2010, 23:06 Quote
Ummm..Hi, My name's Xir, and I'm an anonimous filmed cutscene lover.:D

No really, I've even downloaded the Privateer 2 cutscenes just to see how the story ends. :-)
I like the cheesy wing commander cutscenes.
I like Phantasmagoria (well, back then, there's a time and place for everything, right?)
I even liked the C&C and Red alert cutscenes (go Tim Curry!)

On the other hand I don't like scripted scenes in a game...if the avatar is moving, I want to move it.

Blech*
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