The Escapist Presents: The Escapist On: Storytelling

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The Escapist On: Storytelling

The Escapist Staff discusses how story can elevate or kill a game.

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It's hard to beleive that games were only for gameplay in the old days. At a certain point, it was either a game had poor gameplay and a great story or vice versa.

Both of them are required to make a great game during these days.

I like that you guys talked about "if a game made you emotionnal". I'll admit that i've never cried to a western game. However, I had some moments of suprises. Japanese games made me cried twice and feel sorry for many characters. Some people will think otherwise.

Note* Susan, I know how you felt with Jade Empire.

Yeah, actually you don't really recognize, how you personally judge a game, but the facts you point out in this video are quite accurate...

A game being good does only do so by combining gameplay and storytelling, I rather think that games ought to be "played stories" as you can interactively ... -well- act as a person in the game and very often decide, which way the story goes.
There already is a number of good games in which you have to choose between good and evil, like Black and White or Fable, or even games, in which the whole world reacts in different kind of ways, when you change your own attitude...

I think, you found the right words for describing the importance of those facts, we are all checking when playing games, but subconsciously. :o

PS; Why is nobody replying to this vid? :x
hope I don't get banned x)

PPS; second? _

I smell this turning into a JRPG hate thread. Just saying.

In my opinion, the best in-game storytelling goes to Lost Odyssey, for literally being story telling, but with beautiful, emotional music and graphics to go alongside the stories.

Grea, Props to Mr. Funk for talking about MGS2 when the 1 character dies because he's right thats the closest Iv'e ever come.

Onyx Oblivion:
I smell this turning into a JRPG hate thread. Just saying.

=O
Quick! Must put of some western Games with great story!
I'll put forward Half Life and COD4 to that plate.
With a little Knights of the Old Republic to garnish it off

Never cried, but when you finally see Midna transformed at the end of Twilight Princess I was in awe. She was already a great character, but in those final moments before she leaves I was captivated by the longing between her and Link.

comadorcrack:

Onyx Oblivion:
I smell this turning into a JRPG hate thread. Just saying.

=O
Quick! Must put of some western Games with great story!
I'll put forward Half Life and COD4 to that plate.
With a little Knights of the Old Republic to garnish it off

Half Life. Yes. CoD 4. No.

Onyx Oblivion:
I smell this turning into a JRPG hate thread. Just saying.

In my opinion, the best in-game storytelling goes to Lost Odyssey, for literally being story telling, but with beautiful, emotional music and graphics to go alongside the stories.

It didn't make it into the video, but I actually referenced Lost Odyssey for that very reason.

Emperorpeng:
Never cried, but when you finally see Midna transformed at the end of Twilight Princess I was in awe. She was already a great character, but in those final moments before she leaves I was captivated by the longing between her and Link.

I felt the very same way.

OT: Storytelling in games can definitely be tricky. When it's done right, as in BioShock, it's done very well. When it's done wrong, it just brings down the whole experience.

An example I like to bring up (and talked about earlier today) is Chrono Cross & The Force Unleashed. Now, this might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but both of them are aimed at being epic stories with supernatural elements intended to draw us into the lives of the characters. What Chrono Cross does right is giving the characters depth, making the stakes personal and allowing the players to determine the course of the story. The Force Unleashed, on the other hand, is full of shallow wooden characters that get involved in fights for the sake of the spectacle alone, and none of it really amounts to anything because we already know how the story's going to end.

Sounds like all of the prequel films, actually.

Susan Arendt:

Onyx Oblivion:
I smell this turning into a JRPG hate thread. Just saying.

In my opinion, the best in-game storytelling goes to Lost Odyssey, for literally being story telling, but with beautiful, emotional music and graphics to go alongside the stories.

It didn't make it into the video, but I actually referenced Lost Odyssey for that very reason.

Yay! Seriously, I used a guide to ensure that I didn't miss a single one of those fantastic stories. And they were all awesome. Oddly though, the one I posted was the first one, and it was also the saddest. And I never use guides for anything but character creation.

Random Argument Man:
It's hard to beleive that games were only for gameplay in the old days. At a certain point, it was either a game had poor gameplay and a great story or vice versa.

Yeah, and now look at sokme of the stories we get, especilly in the RPG area!

Great article guys, and I can certainly understand where you are all coming from!

I don't like storytelling in games... at their heart, videogames are still *games* which really makes a mess of my suspension of disbelief.

For example, I walk Nathan Drake along the edge of some crumbling wall to grab a shiny artifact I can see a short distance away. In a butter-fingers moment, he goes flying off the edge and dies. Half an hour later, he's in a dialogue scene where a villain's got a gun pointed at his head. Now what's crumbling is my suspension of disbelief. Nate can take a dozen gunshots before dying, and even if he dies he gets to try again and again until he wins... so what's the deal with letting this situation set him back? It's inconsistent. *My* Nathan Drake would just turn around and unload the usual truckload of whoop-ass, sweep the girl off her feet, toss all the ancient treasures in a sack and fly away into the sunset right then and there; but NOOOO in "the story" he's got to act like this generic goon with a crappy handgun is some kind of threat. It's the same for the enemies: what the hell is up with taking Nathan *hostage*? He's deadlier than ebola!

That's why I like abstract games (shmups e.g.) and simulations. That sort of game doesn't give a damn if you win or lose... there's no narrative that's pre-determined on your progress and success, so failure isn't a total disruption of your immersion in the game.

Good watch. Story seems tricky in games, at least to me. If a game has a great story,I take notice and remember that. KotOR and MGS3 still stand out. On the other hand, if a game has a bad, forgettable, or nonexistent story, but gameplay that makes up for it, I won't think twice.

I think the first game that made me cry a little was the original (1990) Wing Commander.
It had fantastic dynamic music, pretty well written dialogue and a branching story which I always ended up in the wrong branch of. Wingmen I had got used flying with died, we were losing the war, the briefings seemed more tense and occasionally you'd get short cutscenes between missions were you saw human soldiers getting slaughtered by Kilrathi.

The next game to make me cry a little was probably Wing Commander 4 (1996), but that wasn't as much for what happened in the game as how incredibly beautiful it was for its time. The intro movie gives me goosebumps to this day.

Oh, and even though I despised the voice actor for Tidus, and thought most of the dialogue in Final Fantasy X was ridiculous, I couldn't avoid shedding a tear during that Tidus/Yuna scene by the water.

Is Logan a new face at The Escapist, or just on video? Hope to see more of him about, and not just to add a few more non-American accents to the mix. Mad props for admitting you look forward to the day that a game makes you cry - I'm in the same boat. The end of Half-Life II: Episode II made my tear up a little, but I look forward to crying like a bitch when someone makes a story that good.

Strange that Russ is all "Story? Pshaw, unnecessary!" Being an editor, I'd assumed he'd appreciate the story.

I remember, back in my day, cutscenes were a reward, so again I'm on the same page as Logan. You'd work hard to get to a certain point and you'd get rewarded with an awesome cutscene. And you know what you'd do right after? Call your friends or go into school the next day and tell them all about it.

"And then the bad guy like waved his arms like THIS and BWOOSH he totally summoned lightning from nowhere and threw it but the good guy was like GODS PROTECT ME and made this little move with his fingers and the lightning TOTALLY FLEW BACK AT THE BAD GUY IT WAS AWESOME."

Nerdfury:
Is Logan a new face at The Escapist, or just on video?

Not new, just better known as 'nilcypher'

I think Egoraptor says it best about cutscenes. Using a cutscene to enhance the story and characters is a cheap way of amplifying the immersion. It should be the in-game immersion that holds you, and not a cutscene that actually has nothing to do with videogames. It is then the movie aspect that draws you.

Personally, a good story (obviously) doesn't hurt, but neither does a bad one. I play games for the gameplay and visual/audible enjoyment only. Awesome graphics, physics and sounds combined with good gameplay, are what make me play games.

Hey, did anyone else notice the Desgia music playing in the background>? LOL nice touch... damn i feel a little geeky now!

The only time I've ever cried at the story of a game was during (And I know people will hate me forever) Final Fantasy VII (I was young at the time) and I will argue it had a good story besides all those tedious minigames and cross-dressing that made it feel more like I was Attorney Barry Zuckercorn upon reflection...probably none of you got the reference

*SPOILERS BELOW*
On the topic of immersion and cutscenes, I recently played Borderlands, a RPG no less, where cutscenes are few and far between and audiologs manage to both inform and provide a steady source of entertainment. The problem is that Borderlands suffers from a barely-there storyline where a voice in your head tells you to find 4 magic macguffins to open a vault only to have them stolen from you, and the vault opened by the culprit. The culprit gets killed by a monster and you have to kill monster coming out of vault. There, I summed up Borderlands's plot in 2 sentences.

At the same time, the storyline didn't hurt the immersion that much because it was the gameplay that kept me going and the coop multiplayer that kept me immersed much longer than Fallout 3, a very similar game did. Hell, if Fallout 3 and Bioshock were sucked up by the wittiest Kirby in all of Dreamland, farted out, it's star harvested by Gearbox and somehow converted into a game, that would be Borderlands...I've gotten off track.

In Bioshock there are only like 3 cutscenes(Cutscenes being classified as scenes where you can't move)? That guy being killed by the spider splicer, Ryan telling you to kill him and The ending. Everything else about the story is told through audio diaries and radio messages between Atlas/Fontaine, Tenenbaum, Ryan and you. Does it hurt the immersion, no it strengthens it all the more. Those radio messages make Bioshock a creepy atmospheric game because you know that you are always being watched by both your enemies and your allies.
*Spoilers ARE DONE*

Not the best pointers, but whatever...

mannaroth:
Grea, Props to Mr. Funk for talking about MGS2 when the 1 character dies because he's right thats the closest Iv'e ever come.

Same here, that part, especially when Raiden and his sister are talking really got me.

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Braid yet. That game certainly gave me a few pangs in the heart.

Lately I've gotten addicted to the TV series Chuck, and have been thinking what it is about the show that engages me so, and how I identify with Chuck always seems to be the most effective element. Yes, I have done computer repair in retail (Circuit City Firedog, we fixed Geek Squad's work ;) ), but that romantic hook between Chuck and Sarah is what keeps me coming back. As spies, they're put in extraordinary circumstances, but that stuff is all just context for the core suspense of the series, which is how they approach all the various combinations of problems that you can have in a relationship and how they work through it. You don't need to be a CIA agent to identify with that.

Braid seems to do this a bit more deliberately, but in a sort of interactive way. Each of the storybooks, and even the strange atomic epilogue seem to capture the pain of lost relationships and growing up. We can't rewind time, but we sure as hell can understand why this guy would want to. The plot isn't even that clear or delivered in a forcibly linear way, but it still manages to hook people.

I think this is why many discussions of story in games always end up talking about JRPGS. Note: I admit that I haven't played many JRPGs outside the typical Final Fantasy titles, Chrono Trigger, and a little bit of Baten Kaitos, but surely I'm not the exception when I say that by the time I got around to playing Final Fantasy 7 & 8 and similar titles I was entering my teen years. These two games are full of all the things that a young male teenager can easily identify with, albeit set in an extraordinary context. People swoon for Tifa from FF7, because she's the childhood friend who grows up to be beautiful and ends up with a bigger, stronger guy than you. Squall from FF8 is a mess of insecurity who seems to have issues in effectively communicating himself in social situations. These are fairly common speedbumps you encounter growing up, and the fact that someone took the time to talk about it makes you feel better about your own particular experiences. Most JRPG developers seem to understand this and create stories to suit their audience.

To get off of the JRPG kick, and to recognize that identification is an element that can be crafted in more ways than one, I want to look at CoD: Modern Warfare 1 & 2. The first game put you in the shoes of a new recruit. You got razzed by your superiors, and found yourself in ridiculous situations such as a sinking ship and a suspenseful sniping mission (yes, different character, but he was in the same situation: still relatively green in comparison to the guy he was working with).
Personally, I'm really not that great at FPS games. I'm usually the guy making dumb mistakes like shooting your friends on Left 4 Dead or stubbornly taking the same route despite getting sniped there every time. CoD 4 seemed to pull me out of the dirt and show me the ropes, culminating in an epic showdown that tested my ability to do everything I'd learned prior in the game. I felt a connection between Soap and myself, we were both sort of thrown into a new environment and grew from it.

Modern Warfare 2, in contrast, seemed to have not only a more difficult campaign than CoD 4, but also seemed to not care about the player as much. Forgive me if I'm missing something (eventually I just got sick of the mission and started playing only multiplayer), but the only mission with remotely interesting plot is the airport massacre, and frankly I can't really identify with being forced to murder hundreds of people to keep a cover. It was an interesting maneuver to play with the fact that you're working in an interactive medium, but in order to get the impact of that moment I feel the campaign's plot was severely lacking in the identification department.

TL;DR: I'll be emotionally moved by any game that's all about me.

I was expecting someone to mention the end of Half Life 2 episode 2

as that was one of the few times a game almost made me cry...

Onyx Oblivion:

comadorcrack:

Onyx Oblivion:
I smell this turning into a JRPG hate thread. Just saying.

=O
Quick! Must put of some western Games with great story!
I'll put forward Half Life and COD4 to that plate.
With a little Knights of the Old Republic to garnish it off

Half Life. Yes. CoD 4. No.

I agree with you on CoD 4 (haven't played Half-Life so I can't judge). While the story of CoD 4 itself wasn't all that bad, I found it's approach to storytelling to be rather lousy. I found the cutscenes at the start of each level really disengaging and left me uninvolved and prevented me from getting immersed into the game. I never liked Griggs simply because I found him to be too much of a stereotype. I considered Gaz and Price to be really cool, but that was because of the preconcieved belief I had that the British SAS are really cool, whichis also why I enjoyed playing as one. Likewise, I found the idea of being an American quite boring, so I didn't particularly enjoy playing as a US Marine. And despite Gaz and Price being cool, they're still underused characters. Sure, we get an idea of Price being a no nonsense and often mean type of guy, but his character hardly makes the impact it should on the story considering his role and Gaz has so little dialogue that he's practically one of the randomly generated named soldiers you fight alongside throughout the game.

Nincompoop:
I think Egoraptor says it best about cutscenes. Using a cutscene to enhance the story and characters is a cheap way of amplifying the immersion. It should be the in-game immersion that holds you, and not a cutscene that actually has nothing to do with videogames. It is then the movie aspect that draws you.

Personally, a good story (obviously) doesn't hurt, but neither does a bad one. I play games for the gameplay and visual/audible enjoyment only. Awesome graphics, physics and sounds combined with good gameplay, are what make me play games.

Egoraptor??

Onyx Oblivion:
I smell this turning into a JRPG hate thread. Just saying.

In my opinion, the best in-game storytelling goes to Lost Odyssey, for literally being story telling, but with beautiful, emotional music and graphics to go alongside the stories.

The ending of FFX made me blubber... I love JRPG's, except Last Remnant.

Susan Arendt:

Nincompoop:
snip

Egoraptor??

Ehm... Well... I don't understand how I didn't see this coming. I shoulda put a link or something. The name just sounds so incredibly random. He isn't that famous.

Egoraptor makes silly cartoons about videogames. Metal Gear Awesome is the most famous one. Almost all his cartoons have 'awesome' in the title. They are quite funny, to be honest.

Anyways, I saw an interview of him, where he talked a bit about story telling and/or cutscenes. Watch at about 4:00 to 6:00 or something.

Cheers Susan!

Nincompoop is proud that an editor has spoken to him

Alot of games have had me interested due to their story and atmosphere. Such as for example Knights of the Old Republic, and most other Bioware games. The Half Life series truly sets the standard for a simple, yet highly atmospheric and quality First Person Shooter experience.

Apart from that there hasn't been much else. Though there has been two games so far that has had me emotionally involved to a deep level. I didn't cry, but was still very touched by Starbreeze Studios' The Darkness and the latest Bioware installment Dragon Age.

Strangely, one of the most emotional games for me is one which doesn't really have any characters - Homeworld 2.

Maybe it's just because I'm a sucker for space opera, but I thought it one of the most epic and moving stories I've seen in a game, and the cutscenes and music turned the impact up to the max.

The first time I played the last mission against the Planet Killers, I didn't really know what to do and even though I won, 98% of the population of Higara ended dying. I felt so terrible about it that I couldn't watch the ending video, I had to go back to redo the mission and not let even a single person die, which made the ending movie all the more moving.

I can't remember if I cried, but it I did, it was from the sheer epicness of it.

Felt the same way about MGS2. Probably the best example of great story in games.

Here's a game I almost completely forgot about... R-Type Command for PSP! I totally shed a tear for the ending cutscene even though the story leading up to that point was ridiculously improbable.

The way I see it as opposed to other forms of media story is only an element of a video game an element which can add to game but can easily be overlooked if the gameplay is enjoyable.

A movie with great actors who all played their roles well and were convincing won't save the movie if the story is bad. And a book with a bad story is just a bad book.

When it comes how a game tells a story I think video games have a huge advantage to other media, because only in video game can you give your audience the option to search out the story of the game instead of just displaying it before them.

A recent example of that approach would be Demon's Souls the majority of that games actual story is from dialogue with npcs and in the descriptions of unique items, and levels themselves.

Other examples of this are, Elder Scroll series with it's books, also both Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect with an in game codex.

But I do think there is a point where story does get in the way gameplay. During Uncharted 2 in the train scene where you have to the kill boss, I shot him with over 100 bullets from a M4 and he didn't die. Then I tried it again but this time ran right into melee combat and two melee sequences later he dropped dead.

That left me so upset that from then on all I could do was see the faults in the game. Like how Drake is supposedly a non-violent mass murder or how he had numerous chances to kill the primary villain but you couldn't because it was during a cutscene.

Assassin Creed 2 suffers the same problem too but not as bad. In the assassin tombs there are times when they take away the ability to use your throwing knives for the whole time you're in the tomb. Why? Because they (the developers) don't want you to kill the agile guard that they want to make you chase until you get to a guard room where there are five more guards that you now have to kill. Scripted in events and story like these are boring for me caused me to have a great dislike of Uncharted 2 which in my opinion doesn't have the gameplay to make up for it.

I'm the fourth person to repeat this, but MGS 2 is definitely the closest I've come to crying in a video game - I've always been in love with that game's story, and it was my favourite out of the entire series. Another game that moved me was Silent Hill 2, particularly if you get the "sadder" endings of the game - I've never played a game where I've felt so connected on an emotional level to a character; it's hard to pin-point exactly how the game developers managed to do that, but in certain parts of the game it was as if I was sharing James' pain with him. Overall, a fantastic video - it's nice to see such an eloquent examination of the more complex aspects of video games.

I have cried. I admit.
It was on Earth. Me and god knows how many others were holding the Wormhole, I can't dare to imagine how many there were total on the 7 shards of that map. We saw the last bane fall and the final bits of fireworks went off. Me and my squad lined up for a screenshot and in the chatbox I saw the GM. "10....9.....8" We all said as many of our byes as we could. The chatbox was filled with last second pleas to not do it.

"1"

And the servers for Tabula Rasa were cut.

I know a lot of people don't hold the game at high stakes. But I loved it. Not because it had awesome gameplay. Not because the maps were all imaginative, and felt alive. But the community. TR had the most grown up community I've seen. The community in the closed and open Beta of Fallen Earth comes as a close second, but the people in TR were the best. Even people who you just met at the entrance of an instance. "Hey, wanna squad up?" "Sure." and for those handful of missions, you were the best of friends.

Some other games have tugged the strings, but that's it.

Russ, your head is reflecting the green screen...

I have cried from a game, I'll blame F3, not gonna say when, but it got me.

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