Sometimes It Takes a Boulder

Wired online has just posted a short piece by Jordan Mechner, called The Hollywood Trap, wherein he draws some attention to the confusion video game designers seem to have between cinematic-styled and gameplay-specific storytelling techniques. That is, cut-scenes do not a game-story make. Most of what Mr. Mechner says is very much in line with some of the recent issues of The Escapist, so go and read it.

While making his point, though, Mechner says this:

"One small example: In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the hero doesn't realize he's gained the power to turn back time until the player dis covers that he has a new controller button at his disposal - and uses it to save his life by rewinding a fatal mistake. Had this revelation occurred in a cutscene instead of during active play, it would not have the same impact."

Original Comment by: Dom Camus

The implication is that movies somehow do better in this respect, which I'm not convinced is correct. I have often heard people remark that the plots of certain movies completely passed them by. That many Hollywood blockbusters have plots so simple and minimalist that it's almost impossible to become confused is beside the point.

I feel that in fact games have an opportunity to do something much better here. A game can adapt to the player's apparent level of confusion and provide assistance.

A simple example of a similar technique is adaptive game difficulty. In the recent God of War for example, the game will notice if Kratos appears to be losing the same fight again and again and will offer to switch you to Easy mode. I see no reason why a similar approach could not be used for clues dropped in narrative. If you've played the game for ten minutes and still not picked up the key which was dropped by that NPC during the cut scene, the game can automatically prompt you. This could be via an "out of character" note or the reminder event itself could also take the form of an in-game event or visual cue.

I sometimes wonder how much effort is really put into developing and playtesting the problem-solving aspects of games. Quite frequently I see some puzzle in a game so badly designed or badly implemented that I find it hard to believe no playtester raised objections. (That trampoline in Ico, for example.) Maybe all we're really finding fault with is the side effects of laziness or pressure of deadlines ?

Original Comment by: cibbuano
http://moviecritic.com.au
re: Grim Fandango... I agree... it's a beautiful game, with wonderful storytelling, but when you get stuck, it feels like you're just wandering around with no clue.

I think Half-Life did an excellent job of playing out like a movie, without resorting to cutscenes. The drawback, of course, is that the game was very linear.

Original Comment by: Jordan Mechner
http://www.myspace.com/jmechner
Will,
Saw your post and couldn't resist commenting. Good catch -- you're not crazy. In Sands of Time, picking up the dagger does trigger a short cutscene in which the Prince "accidentally" presses rewind, saving himself from being crushed by a falling block.

At this point in the story, though, the Prince doesn't yet understand what happened or how he did it -- and in gameplay terms, neither does the player, since he hasn't actually pressed the button. So I'd consider this scene, in itself, neither exposition nor tutorial... just a really blatant hint to the player as to what's coming next.

The actual "moment of realization" occurs in the gameplay following this cutscene, when the Prince falls to his death on the spikes and the player saves him by pressing the rewind button. At this point, we hear the Prince telling his story in voice-over, saying something like: "The miracle I had experienced by accident, I now discovered that I could trigger at will. By pressing a switch on the dagger's handle, I could turn back time!"

I admit, it's not subtle, but I think it achieved our goal of weaving together voice-over storytelling with the nuts-and-bolts requirements of a "smart" gameplay tutorial.

Original Comment by: Jordan Mechner
http://www.myspace.com/jmechner
Will,

Saw your post and couldn't resist commenting. Good catch -- you're not crazy. In Sands of Time, picking up the dagger does trigger a short cutscene in which the Prince "accidentally" presses rewind, saving himself from being crushed by a falling block.

At this point in the story, though, the Prince doesn't yet understand what happened or how he did it -- and in gameplay terms, neither does the player, since he hasn't actually pressed the button. So I'd consider this scene, in itself, neither exposition nor tutorial... just a really blatant hint to the player as to what's coming next.

The actual "moment of realization" occurs in the gameplay following this cutscene, when the Prince falls to his death on the spikes and the player saves him by pressing the rewind button. At this point, we hear the Prince telling his story in voice-over, saying something like: "The miracle I had experienced by accident, I now discovered that I could trigger at will. By pressing a switch on the dagger's handle, I could turn back time!"

I admit, it's not subtle, but I think it achieved our goal of weaving together voice-over storytelling with the nuts-and-bolts requirements of a "smart" gameplay tutorial.

Original Comment by: Rosana
http://almost_blonde2@yahoo.com
i i know you have some problems with the company but i am one of the billions of fans that played the game but please dont stop writing it, the plots of the 3 games are twisting and genius.

i know what your going throw.

 

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