Game People Calling: Dr. Story Takes on Games

Game People Calling: Dr. Story Takes on Games

How do games fare when they're reviewed on their stories alone?

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I'll admit to games and story not being the best partnership the potential is definitely there. Especially if you bring interactivity into it, which adds another layer to story telling that movies and books simply can't do.

As i see it, it's not about how detailed a story is or how much you have to fill in yourself, a good GAME Story has to do with being able to establish a connection between the player and the player character.

The Darkness, for example goes a great way to show the player why Jackie is so devastated by the loss of his love by creating a downtime in the action and have Jackie AND the player spend some time with her.

Silent Hill 2 (and pretty much all other games of that franchise, including Shattered Memories) may be traditional with it's storytelling by using cutscenes and such, but it keeps the narrative perspective on the prtagonist, so that the player has to go through the same confusion as the protagonist and is eventually led through gameplay sequences that reflect the played character.

Shadow of the Colossus is also great with a certain "less is more" approach. Most of the Story is told pretty bluntly at the start and the end of the game, with the start being mostly just told, but as a trade off the part of the story the player acts in is pretty much his own, with his own pacing and such, through keeping the game part of the story mostly narrative free and a very singular objective.

I think the key of having a good game story is not to strip story away OR to make it overly complex, but to being clever in "outsourcing" story elements to the gameplay and giving the player emotional investment into the story through his own experience (within gameplay)...

Sorry, Doublepost

....IT'S THE FORUM'S FAULT! *runs*

I always found the story of Kane and Lynch:Dead Men enthralling(apparently I am not the only one http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0968747) even though the gameplay and controls are acknowledged industry wide as utter faeces. Story and games often don't blend is simply not true.A trailer of Heavy Rain can easily tell you that.However, depending on the genre and who the game appeals to.For example Shooters,racers,sports games and platformers aren't always suited for story.
Not to say a good story is unachievable for them.Many shooters have fought against the odds and achieved stories equal to Hollywood films e.g Bioshock.

This ,however, isn't as common as people make out.

Very nice article. I like that, although you acknowledge that the games' stories on their own would be bad in other media, you also acknowledge that that is because games are simply different and the story telling methods have to change with it. To go with your example, Bioshock was amazing because of the way that the story tied in with the gameplay and the decay of the city being revealed the more you explore (for example, I hadn't found Fontaine's Home for the Poor until around my third playthrough, and that was a very interesting area). That second part is particularly key; a book can't get the atmosphere right unless the author is amazingly descriptive, and a movie would certainly get some of it right, but it would undoubtedly miss some important parts as well.

damn browser lag. Ignore this post

Shame they dont take RPG's into account. story wise they are much better suited.
Dragon Age for example would make a descent book or movie imo.

While the game geek in me revels in the hope that our sub-culture will one day take its place among the other respected story-telling media, we're still a long way from achieving it. Whether we like it or not, we're still closer to the gaming end of the spectrum than the expositional one. And as long as sales are driven by pandering to the so-called "Hardcore" gamer, we will forever relegated to an esoteric ghetto populated with tabletopers and LARPing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm behind on my BOOM HEADSHOT! quota.

Game People:
How do games fare when they're reviewed on their stories alone?

Badly.

On a slightly more serious note - i'm intrested what kind of unique storytelling tricks the games will come up with? I think the main trick here is immersion. You can create pretty decent mind-screw with that. Like in Bioshock, for example.

So few games have a good story. Even games that do it right (the darkness) would make terrible movies or books if they followed the same story. Can we focus on game play now?

Look at the Final Fantasy games. They are very story driven, lots of twiddling thumbs while watching cut scenes. It would still not make for a good movie.

The thing is that the idea of a game is to create an enviroment where the player feels sort of like it's him, and that he's in direct control of the situation. Hence the need for the silent protaganist and such, and why we always keep coming back to that. The story is also told through the enviroment and what happens as if you were observing it, rather than having an omni-present narrator over overall "readers eye" view of events.

It's a differant medium, and truthfully things like "Heavy Rain" and the interactive movies that have come before, show EXACTLY why this is the way games are done, as opposed to being plotted out the same way as a movie or book.

As far as the number of plot holes and inconsistincies, well I will say that no genere is immune to that. I think some games are far tighter than others.

Truthfully I am one of the proponents of character customization with players being able to have a direct control over what the protaganist is like, which ultimatly leads to LESS direct plotting on a lot of levels since your not handing the player a pre-made character. I'm a big fan of RPGs where you can create your own characters, or especially your own party, or even action games like "Saint's Row" where you can create your own avatar/protaganist within the storyline. I consider that far more immersive than even the best plotting.

Basically I take exactly the opposite tact of a lot of gamers, and feel that once a protaganist ceases to be silent it tends to reduce the quality of the game. Some games succeed in spite of this, but in general giving the protaganist scripted dialogue even in cases like Saint's Row (where it evened out) lowers personal association and reduces one of the strengths of the gaming platform.

There are exceptions of course, but this is the rule as I see it.

-

Oh and for the record, I think something like Bioshock *COULD* work as a novel but it would have to be written from a first person perspective rather than in the more popular third person perspective. It would also involve moving through the key plot points without focusing on the action (which entertains a gamer) to quite the same extent, though needless to say there would have to be some.

Let's be fair; authors have had thousands of years to refine storytelling in books, and even the relatively new motion picture industry has had more than a century to "figure things out". Both of these are entirely passive mediums- you are expected to sit down, shut up and experience the story someone else wants to tell you.

Video games, on the other hand, are a thirty-year-old development which, only recently, have managed to evolve to the point where complex and branching stories are possible. The interactive demands of gaming make storytelling difficult- either you force the player to sit through a non-interactive cutscene (and there we are, back in the movie mindset, only that might not be what the gamer came for), or you let the gamer wander around and potentially miss all the cool exposition and development you spent so much time developing (and possibly leave the gamer confused later when some vital cue is missed). While there have been some games in the past that have excelled in presenting story in a non-obtrusive way, it's only been in the last decade or so that the story has become as important as anything else to the games industry.

But we can't just point at movies and say "be more like that". A game that attempts to copy a movie's presentation, pacing and "tricks of the trade" simply becomes a very poor and expensive movie that you can only watch on your PC or console. We went that route already, with the likes of Space Ace, Dragon's Lair and those other laserdisc games- they were crutches when hardware of the day couldn't possibly show us anything as involved or complex. That is no longer the case.

Personally, I'm optimistic that the next five to ten years will give us more efforts from developers in melding story and gameplay together in new and interesting ways. And yes, I do want more story in my game, thank you.

I think when it comes to stories, and telling a good, solid tale which weaves in so many dynamics is RPG's in general.

I do love how they tell a story, and its for that reason why I love to play them so much. Games are learning to have more and more sotryi n all genre's now which is good...its just buolding that solid base that often gets people down

It's become a dirty bussiness, if now gameplay doesn't matter.

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far, some very interesting points made. I'm not a big RPG player (does Fallout 3 count as an RPG these days?), but I'm sure I'll get around to all genres sooner or later. Except maybe sports games.

Oh and Therumancer - I agree that a good film or book could be made of Bioshock, or indeed any game with a decent (or even semi-decent) story, with the kind of major surgery you're talking about: stripping out all the repetitive action, focussing on the main plot points, stripping out a lot of the repetitive action, giving the characters more depth.

If you want to see an adaptation which actually does stick to pretty much the letter of the game plot, there's a manhua adaptation of Resident Evil: Code Veronica which preserves pretty much every story beat. It's an odd read.

I like a game to have a strong narrative. Especially if it is one you can really get involved in, usually RPGs have better stories but now in FPSs people are needing more and more of a reason to go on than "Go to Point B and kill everything before moving to Point C and killing everything."

I demand more of these sorts of articles! I'm aiming to be a narrative designer/game writer as a professional, so I love to lap up any information or reviews I can find related to this.

I agree that game narrative is completely different to narrative in other media, and that by and large, they're incompatible. What I don't understand is why people seem to see this as a weakness. There's so much obsession with game stories being translated into movie format, as though that validates games as a storytelling medium. Why can't we be proud of, and learn to improve upon, what we already have?

Games like Heavy Rain may be good for telling a story (I haven't played it), but only in the same way as a movie. They're far from the best or only way to do it. "Revolutionising" the medium in order to tell a story - an act that usually involves sacrificing gameplay - is not the way to go. Developers need to take queues from Half-Life or BioShock, and integrate storytelling into the play experience. We have a valid and unique medium to work with, here. Before revolutionising anything, we should first become comfortable with and proud of what we've already got.

Went off on a tangent, there. Sorry! My point was this: great article, want more please. :)

Meemaimoh:
I demand more of these sorts of articles! I'm aiming to be a narrative designer/game writer as a professional, so I love to lap up any information or reviews I can find related to this.

You should hopefully enjoy the ongoing Story Gamer reviews on Game People, Meemaimoh. While some are relatively straight reviews, but looking at the game primarily in terms of its story, others use the game as a springboard to discuss a specific aspect of storytelling in games, or focus in very tightly on how that game achieves a certain effect with a certain story element.

There may also be longer Story Gamer articles down the line, but not for a while, as I'm concentrating on the reviews for now.

Story Gamer:

Meemaimoh:
I demand more of these sorts of articles! I'm aiming to be a narrative designer/game writer as a professional, so I love to lap up any information or reviews I can find related to this.

You should hopefully enjoy the ongoing Story Gamer reviews on Game People, Meemaimoh. While some are relatively straight reviews, but looking at the game primarily in terms of its story, others use the game as a springboard to discuss a specific aspect of storytelling in games, or focus in very tightly on how that game achieves a certain effect with a certain story element.

There may also be longer Story Gamer articles down the line, but not for a while, as I'm concentrating on the reviews for now.

I have already subscribed to the RSS feed, and am eagerly looking forward to reading the stuff posted on there. Thanks. :)

 

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