Is the Play the Thing?

Is the Play the Thing?

When it comes to stories in games, if you're going to do something, do it right - or not at all.

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Good article.

I think the fact that a terrible story should be dropped as it aids the game in no way is very relevant to Resident Evil 5. At some times that was an embarrassment to play through. They may well have just said "You are dropped into an area full of mad villagers/monsters and your aim is to escape".
But if the story would have degraded the game (and was dropped for this), people might be even more miffed as to why there is no story. I can imagine reviews where a major cripe for them was a lack of story. But then again in games like Mario where people are used to a mediocre storyline in reviews the storyline draws little attention as people don't really care about it.

Well that rant went in full-circle... Ahh well.

I read the article and I not sure if I like it. You seem to be talking around the issue and never fully state what kind of stories you want in your games. A more detailed discussion on games that have good stories or ways in which stories can be succesfully incorporated in games would have helped.

I agree with the majority of the article, but as MrPop said, cutting out the story would leave many people critical.

However, a great example of bookend story would be the likes of Doom, where you got a screen of text after each chapter, telling you where you were, and why you still had enemies to kill. It worked really well, and a modern take on that would work well I think. (obviously not text, since it seems people don't like to read these days..!)

For me, story is king. I've always been one for a good tale, which is why I quickly went for adventure games and RPGs. Both of which are a bit of a dying breed, for various reasons.

Hate...multiplayer...so...much

The current gaming industry and their lazy focus on multiplayer is really pissing me off. I play games like I read books, when I want to do something ALONE! I don't want to ALWAYS have to play with some pissant over XBL or have to deal with stupid as hell companion AI since of course "they expect you to play with a friend" so they don't bother to make your companion AI worth a damn.

I'm VERY worried about Uncharted, seeing as it was one of my FAVORITE games when it came out and I never thought "gee this would be better with Co-op". I really got to wonder what the hell Naughty Dog is thinking now with a "co-op" mode. I just sure as hell hope it's not a "required" thing like it was in RE5.

PedroSteckecilo:
I really got to wonder what the hell Naughty Dog is thinking now with a "co-op" mode. I just sure as hell hope it's not a "required" thing like it was in RE5.

It's not.

I can definitely get behind the "do it well or don't do it at all" philosophy in game design, and I think there are a few examples out there.

Demigod, for instance, has about a 3 minute intro that is the entirety of the game's "story" (aside from character bios on the website, but that doesn't count). Since it was basically entirely designed around being a competitive multiplayer game, there's no reason to waste development time crafting some elaborate story, and they didn't.

Valve games also tend to be quite good at knowing when & where to put in enough of a story to be enjoyable, without doing Mass Effect's 15 minutes worth of exposition, followed by 15 minutes of actual gameplay. (although admittedly I loved Mass Effect anyway)

What I wonder is where a game like World of Warcraft falls on the "story or not" spectrum. Honestly I'm not sure... I generally like the story Blizzard has created in Azeroth, but I must admit I don't read the text on about 90% of the quests.

HeartAttackBob:

Demigod, for instance, has about a 3 minute intro that is the entirety of the game's "story" (aside from character bios on the website, but that doesn't count). Since it was basically entirely designed around being a competitive multiplayer game, there's no reason to waste development time crafting some elaborate story, and they didn't.

A friend of a friend from Seattle was visiting last Summer and interestingly works in the games industry. While we were chatting about game design she mentioned that she was annoyed with an executive decision requiring them to shoehorn Single Player into what was essentially a competative multiplayer game.

Unsuprisingly, she was talking about Demigod, it's amusing to see that it is as shoehorned as she figured it would be.

I personally love a good well crafted story in every medium. One of the things that differentiates video games from movies though is that a game can get away with a bad story and still be game of the year. I mean people love to whine about bad stories and all but honestly a good story is one of those things that is great but just not that important...don't believe me?? then look at the top selling games like halo god of war and the like, check their audience and tell me those people like a well crafted story in their games.

I would definitely like to see more games where story is given the priority.

Some gamers really enjoy story in games, some don't care for it at all - it only makes sense to make games that cater to one or the other.

At least, it would if games weren't so damn expensive to make.

HeartAttackBob:
I can definitely get behind the "do it well or don't do it at all" philosophy in game design, and I think there are a few examples out there.

Demigod, for instance, has about a 3 minute intro that is the entirety of the game's "story" (aside from character bios on the website, but that doesn't count). Since it was basically entirely designed around being a competitive multiplayer game, there's no reason to waste development time crafting some elaborate story, and they didn't.

Valve games also tend to be quite good at knowing when & where to put in enough of a story to be enjoyable, without doing Mass Effect's 15 minutes worth of exposition, followed by 15 minutes of actual gameplay. (although admittedly I loved Mass Effect anyway)

What I wonder is where a game like World of Warcraft falls on the "story or not" spectrum. Honestly I'm not sure... I generally like the story Blizzard has created in Azeroth, but I must admit I don't read the text on about 90% of the quests.

That is because Blizzard design their stories and quests in a way that they are skipable if the end user wants more gaming than story. Those who do like stories will have tons and tons of content to read while those who don't can just continue to play.

Nice Article.

I enjoyed the article. It seems people don't even give the story or dialogue a chance anymore. In the old days it was mash "A" until you can start hitting things again. Now that games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect allow you to create yourself, mashing "A" can screw up your entire game depending on if you are a goody-two-shoes or Satan incarnate (because everything has to be polarized in life), and people STILL disregard the dialogue and story. When I hack a terminal in Fallout 3 and there are personal notes on characters, I actually read them, and enjoy making the pixels I interact with a little more organic.

In my mind its the story that makes a game great. Sure, you could have a game with the best graphics and gameplay ever...but with no driving point behind the action, it feels random and uninspiring.

Games like God of War, MGS, Mass Effect, etc. were great experiences because the characters and events were memorable and interesting. Instead of muscle-bound cardboard cut outs , they had emotions and motives, thoughts and feelings, fears and hatreds.

For the record the end of MGS 3 is one of the most soul-shattering things I have ever watched. There are few things that can provoke such emotions from me, and the fact that it did makes it one of my favorite games of all time.

Games are games. Movies are movies.

The story should exist only to make the game realistic, provide a setting and explain its features, nothing more. If the resulting story is awkward, ditch it.

If you want to make a shooter where you fight demons in a base on Mars, then instead of having sad cutscenes about the death of some NPC (nobody cares), fill the manual with apocalyptical verses and let the players worry about killing demons. Maybe then you wouldn't need that forced ending and that annoying scripted escort mission where the NPC dies because the story says she should die.

Shadowbane actually tried to incorporate *respawns* into the storyline. Wtf. Diablo 1 has very little ingame story (but a lot of backstory - keyword BACKstory) and is much scarier than the sequel which uses an overload of NPC dialogue and cutscenes to explain that the Prime Evils are running away from you for the entire game.

And let's not forget GTAIV being dominated by story to the point where you have to take your friends for dinner, instead of jumping over buildings with a motorbike as in the previous games.

......

In short, games are so blatantly unrealistic that a story won't help and it may harm the gameplay through things like scripted missions. Games are about gameplay and a story should only be included to explain why you're running around with a rocket launcher shooting at mechanical jellyfish, not how.

PedroSteckecilo:
Hate...multiplayer...so...much

The current gaming industry and their lazy focus on multiplayer is really pissing me off. I play games like I read books, when I want to do something ALONE! I don't want to ALWAYS have to play with some pissant over XBL or have to deal with stupid as hell companion AI since of course "they expect you to play with a friend" so they don't bother to make your companion AI worth a damn.

I completely agree with this. I really hate the current attitude that a game needs multiplayer to be good. It annoys me no end when developers crowbar in a half-arsed multiplayer mode, for no other reason than "because they can". If a game has good single-player, that's what it should focus on. The only multiplayer I ever play is local, and I do that rarely; I don't play online because I don't like playing with people I don't know.

I much prefer to play a good single-player game, because I tend to use gaming as a way to get away from it all; if I'm playing by myself, I don't have to worry about anyone else getting in the way and ruining the game for me. Plus, in a game where the developers don't have to worry about multiplayer, they have much more time to work on the story (as said in the article), which is always a good thing.

Good single player and multiplayer are really opposing forces since good single player often relies heavily on the story while most multiplayer modes focus on the game and competition. Playing good single player is like watching an emotional movie. If you want to experience it properly, having your jerk-off friends hooting and hollering around you is going to detract from your experience. On the other hand, multiplayer has its place as a conduit for when you'd like to be that hooting and hollering jerk-off.

Personally I don't play much multiplayer except against friends. I guess I'm not emotionally mature enough to deal with being called a 'noob' after being 'pwnd'. [/sarcasm]

Some guy up the forum said that games are games and movies are movies. I guess I wish that games were movies that you get to control. Phoenix Wright is basically a detective novel where you do the detective work so I'm hoping this sort of gameplay will extend to other games (Indigo Prophecy was one, but ruined by the sheer ridiculous-ness of the story 'twist').

Also, it's worth noting that even though story is deemed as integral to the story of games like say, Fallout 3, there's nothing that makes you experience it. I'm sure many people have started playing, enjoyed some slo-mo head-crackin' and ditched the game after that stopped being amusing. Even in menu-action RPGs there are people who just like to mull over their numbers to show their friends (all MMOs, pokemon fad).

to Brother Laz: I'll respect your opinion, but at the same time I have to comment that an opinion like this belittles the industry as a whole. If all games followed this outline, the medium would never evolve beyond what it is now, and it would get boring fast.

Truth be told, there aren't many people doing the story integration correctly. For example, I liked Kingdom Hearts 2 alot, but some of the best fight scenes in the game were non-interactive (for example, the Roxas battle near the end of the game. This, though, was changed in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix+ by making said fight an actual boss battle).

Another example being Metal Gear Solid 4. I love the game to death, but even I thought the final boss battle was lame. It wasn't nearly as exciting or thrilling as the non-interactive cutscene battle right before it.

As for escort missions and such, developers just haven't managed to do it right yet.

If the story in a game is pulled off correctly, as in Valve's works and others, it can be a fantastic experience. I agree with the above-mentioned example of MGS3's end, the death of that particular character was emotional and tremendous, pretty much because when she asked you to end her life via a bullet in the head, gameplay switched control over to you. Granted all you could do was press the shoot button and nothing else, but I actually did hesitate for a minute.

Personally my favorite series for storytelling has always been the Persona series. For the most part, the main story is paced very well and flows with the rest of the game since it occurs throughout the dungeons as well as in the town itself, but whenever it's a slow spot within the main storyline, you could just do one of the many social links (think sub-plots) to keep up the story level. And, it was obvious that they put a lot of thought into the characters and the storyline, though you might figure things out before them once or twice.

MGS4 is almost on the side of too much story. I loved it to death, but the ending was over an hour long, a lot of which was an extended death sequence. It practically hit you over the head with it's scope. But overall, I'd rather have an overly story-centric game than one with an underdeveloped story.

Yeah. If real effort is put into the story, I'll like it.

Just a note, I find using stuff like New Super Mario Bros. to be a poor example when discussing story in games. The Mario series has never tried to go for deep storylines at all, really (except for the RPG games). It's perfectly content with being a 'game' game, so it can't be accused of having a poor storyline.

Brother Laz:
The story should exist only to make the game realistic, provide a setting and explain its features, nothing more. If the resulting story is awkward, ditch it.

I could not disagree with you more. (Mind, this does not mean I think you're "wrong", just that my opinion stands completely opposite yours.) Story and gameplay can, if not go hand-in-hand, at least coexist happily. I enjoy the Half-Life series as much for its storyline and characters as I do for its gameplay and technical achievements.

However, I do also agree that some games simply don't need much in the way of story. Case in point: Painkiller. Did anyone find the cutscenes valuable, or moving, or even tangentally connected to the gameplay? (Or was everyone just staring at Eve's boobs?) The game was as disjointed, in the way of game levels, as one game could possibly be and still pass itself off as a single experience. Painkiller was an exercise in "clear room of multiple splatterific bad guys, move on through magic opening door, repeat", and the rather ridiculous story was almost entirely unnecessary.

tl;dr version: Games can have stories. Games can have good stories. But good games don't necessarily need stories.

I like story with my game it can push an otherwise alright game into greatness. I agree story can co-exist with gameplay but it needs to be carefully mixed. Too much toward either can make for a pretty bad game.

I do however expect to be able to skip cutscenes for the simple reason I don't want to watch the same clip 50 times when I die at a difficult section of the game.

Also what is with the no pause ability in cutscenes? I know I can't be the only one who's had something happen in real life forcing you away from your screen (E.G. phone ringing, kitchen fire, etc) thus missing sometimes vital story elements.

Gah cut scenes. I find myself unable to skip them, especially in JRPGs, since people seem to love going on and on about how JRPGs are narrative masterpieces, etc. Sorta feels like you'd be missing out a major strength of the genre by ignoring them, not to mention losing out on all the exposition that presumably makes you give a damn about the characters.

Too bad they're terrible. Bad English voice acting, taking way longer than needed to say something like 'Let's all go to the castle', weirdo contrast between ornate, gorgeous cutscene of an area and the ho-hum-by-comparison 3D rendered version... the list goes on.

You miss like 75% of the plot if you skip cutscenes in a game like Lost Odyssey. I'd prefer if they reverted to text conversations that are rendered in-game, honestly. At least then I feel like I'm a step away from playing again, as opposed to watching silly little movies again and again.

Devs are unwilling to throw away stories and focus mainly on game mechanics however because critics love to criticize games for lack of singleplayer campaign: Warhawk, UT3, etc.

When I saw Silent Hill 2 only get 9% of the vote (out of 4 games) on the Gamefaqs best game ever poll I lost any hope of games evolving in the story department.

It saddens me in this day and age how the story can get neglected in order to make the game as pretty as possible. Sure Oblivion was an open game, but it didn't capture me and invite me to play beyond the first dungeon. And Unreal Tournament held my attention because there was no attempt at a story that I could distinguish. Just fast shooting, and normally I don't play shooters.

In my personal opinion, the 16 bit era had some of the greatest storyline games out there with Earthbound, Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger being three that pop into my mind.

interesting article, but the ludology vs. narratology debate has been raging for almost a decade.

this is basically required reading on the subject:

http://web.mit.edu/cms/People/henry3/games&narrative.html

I do disagree with one thing: the greatest story ever told has indeed come frmo a videogame. I'm talking about The Longest Journey. Sure, it may not have had the greatest universe (nothing as intricate, deep or expansive as, say, Tolkien's, certainly), but the characters were all unique (the only clichéd characters were unnamed NPCs who are there just for April to make comments about them). From the uninspired art student, to the kid in the slums scraping out a living and looking for his sister, the mystic, weird neighbour who obviously is hiding something, the gentle barmaid who is helpful, wise a bit cranky, to the talking, smart-cracking crow.
As for the universe, the creatures created in it are amazing and fascinating: "Dark People", hooded black floating figures who strive to collect every book in the world, a race of creatures who perceive time differently than humans, the list goes on.
The story itself is fascinating. The twists are all unexpected, and it's expertly written. It doesn't simply focus on the story itself, but explores the characters, their motivations, their dreams. It also spends a great deal of time exploring the thematic of the game (Faith, Hope, Chaos vs Order, human nature)

 

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