The Story Snob

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The Story Snob

You don't have to put a story in your game, but if you do, try to make it not suck.

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Totally nailed me on the Sonic Unleashed trick, you jerk. Also, yes, yes a thousand times yes. I want to wrap this column around me like a warm, safe, blanket and tell myself everything will be ok.

Hey game developers, when it comes to story less is always more! Portal, Shadow of the Colossus, Fighting Games, etc.

If that seems like a cop out to you, then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Crunchy English:
[...]then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Really good way of putting it. Wish I'd put that in the column.

... and see that every moment fulfills a purpose and adds to the whole. Everything that is said or shown is there to introduce the world, set the mood, establish the personalities of the characters

This is why i thought Avatar was good.

Shamus Young:

Crunchy English:
[...]then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Really good way of putting it. Wish I'd put that in the column.

This is true, and where the world of FF13 went wrong in my opinion.

I love story, and narrative, but worlds never seem to be able to sustain them long enough

Crunchy English:
Totally nailed me on the Sonic Unleashed trick, you jerk. Also, yes, yes a thousand times yes. I want to wrap this column around me like a warm, safe, blanket and tell myself everything will be ok.

Hey game developers, when it comes to story less is always more! Portal, Shadow of the Colossus, Fighting Games, etc.

If that seems like a cop out to you, then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Now that just nails it... you do need an overarching narrative, but the experiences need to be there; the world needs to create the story almost genetically, it's got to have the story baked into it (Sort of like the Portal laboratory - you go through that, and with the limited exposition, and the screens and notes and things you read / look at, you learn the story).

It's consistency, and self-referential consistency at that. If you go to point A, and learn Interesting Fact (IF) X, then go to point B, and learn IF Y, IF X and IF Y should make sense when viewed together...

This article pretty much sums up the reason why I have built a shrine to BioWare in my stationary cupboard.

Crunchy English:

If that seems like a cop out to you, then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Different Strokes for Different Folks I guess. As a lifelong writer and roleplayer I really dislike this intense focus on "nonexistant" narrative in games, that somehow a story "invented" by the player and not present in the game is better than one put forward. If I wanted to create my own story, I could write one myself and if I wanted to create a story with other people I could play a pen and paper game.

Sorry folks, "Player Driven Narrative" as shown in games where there is basically no story is a cop out. This isn't a ringing endorsement of cutscene heavy storytelling either mind you, I just demand dialogue, interaction and plot, not silence and minimalism that barely soaks through the scenery.

WTF SONIC UNLEASEHEDED!?!!??!!

Lol, no I did read it. :P

Jaredin:

Shamus Young:

Crunchy English:
[...]then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Really good way of putting it. Wish I'd put that in the column.

This is true, and where the world of FF13 went wrong in my opinion.

I love story, and narrative, but worlds never seem to be able to sustain them long enough

Im so much of a sucker for story I still wanna buy FF13 (Played first few hours on a mates copy) and skies of arcadia? :D

See, this has always been my opinion about stories and video games. I only think a story can really be considered detrimental to the experience when it is constantly being shoved in your face.

I know mentioned Epic as being guilty of producing games where this is an issue, but I would disagree, at least for the first Gears of War. The story was very basic and fairly dumb, with none of the characters being particularly likable and a number of stupid moments. However, to me this was never an issue because the story just felt like a way to move you from various locals and engage in more gunfights. They never had a long, lengthy cutscenes which unloaded tons of exposition onto the player. Whenever they did yank control away from you, it was just to explain why you were going to another area and what your goal was. So while the story was bad, it didn't ruin the game since it didn't keep me away from the game play.

Compare this to Tales of Symphonia. I complain about this game having a horribly dumb story a lot, but that's only because it really does become detrimental to my ability to enjoy the game. While I think the game play is great, the fact that I have to keep sitting through long cutscenes and listening to exposition I don't give a damn about irritates me. If the cut scenes were short and got straight to the point, it wouldn't be so bad. That's the advantage that Gears of War has over Tales of Symphonia. Both have bad characters and dumb plots, but one of them has enough sense to keep it tucked away most of the time and let you enjoy the actual game rather than make you slog through painful dialogue.

Good God man, no mention of Mafia in an article about storytelling in games?!

Anyway, a great read - one that reflects my views exactly.

PedroSteckecilo:

Crunchy English:

If that seems like a cop out to you, then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Different Strokes for Different Folks I guess. As a lifelong writer and roleplayer I really dislike this intense focus on "nonexistant" narrative in games, that somehow a story "invented" by the player and not present in the game is better than one put forward. If I wanted to create my own story, I could write one myself and if I wanted to create a story with other people I could play a pen and paper game.

Sorry folks, "Player Driven Narrative" as shown in games where there is basically no story is a cop out. This isn't a ringing endorsement of cutscene heavy storytelling either mind you, I just demand dialogue, interaction and plot, not silence and minimalism that barely soaks through the scenery.

I'm having a hard time discerning what kind of story telling you actually like. Just to clarify, what methods tell a decent story in your opinion? Legend of Zelda's cutscenes at regular intervals maybe? or do you prefer the on-the-fly dialogue of say, Uncharted 2?

Crunchy English:

I'm having a hard time discerning what kind of story telling you actually like. Just to clarify, what methods tell a decent story in your opinion? Legend of Zelda's cutscenes at regular intervals maybe? or do you prefer the on-the-fly dialogue of say, Uncharted 2?

Either or really, my dislike comes in the form of people feeling that Portal, Half-Life and Left 4 Dead tell "TEH BEST STORAIZ EVAR!" considering they barely have characters, barely have dialogue and barely have plots. What they have is good storytelling, not good stories in and of themselves. I guess it's a "Just because a game doesn't have cutscenes doesn't mean it's brilliant" gut reaction.

Even then I suppose this was a mostly a misdirected rant at Multiplayer Storytelling.

Games don't need a story to be good. See Unreal Tournament 2004.
But when you try to shoe-horn a story on a well built multiplayer franchise (I know it started with Unreal, and was a story-based game, but I'm ignoring that), like they did with Unreal Tournament 3, then things just get stupid. For example, they tried to use flags- no, wait, F.l.A.G.s. to explain respawning. In the story you had to capture 3 flags to stop their respawners and- well the whole thing is just silly.

If your going to put a story in, make sure its good, and not a pain. Otherwise just don't bother.

And nice job with that Sonic Unleashed thing. I laughed.

Forgot to mention Grand Theft Auto IV.

The reason the story is so good here is because it flows so well with the game play. For example, I decided to play in such a way that I could complete all the side missions without finishing the main quest line... but no matter how you play, the main story catches up with you in surprising ways.

First off I think 2 hours of car chaces, explosions, gunfights and sword fights with no sembalance of plot would be awsome. Other than that I agree with the article. Shoe horning a story into a game because "no game is complete without a story," is a bad idea. Some of my favorite games don't have any thing resembeling a traditional story in them. Civilization 3 and Mount & Blade being examples. Perhaps I am drawing a different conclusion from this article than the author, but there are many games today that could be greatly improoved by stripping out of all story element.

Darktau:
WTF SONIC UNLEASEHEDED!?!!??!!

Lol, no I did read it. :P

Curse you! You beat me to the punch!

Relevant to the topic at hand, I share Mr. Young's opinion on this matter. So much so, that I have nothing whatever to add to it. It makes me feel like I haven't accomplished anything. Thanks a lot. Also, I approve of the taunting. It's awesome.

PedroSteckecilo:

Crunchy English:

I'm having a hard time discerning what kind of story telling you actually like. Just to clarify, what methods tell a decent story in your opinion? Legend of Zelda's cutscenes at regular intervals maybe? or do you prefer the on-the-fly dialogue of say, Uncharted 2?

Either or really, my dislike comes in the form of people feeling that Portal, Half-Life and Left 4 Dead tell "TEH BEST STORAIZ EVAR!" considering they barely have characters, barely have dialogue and barely have plots. What they have is good storytelling, not good stories in and of themselves. I guess it's a "Just because a game doesn't have cutscenes doesn't mean it's brilliant" gut reaction.

Even then I suppose this was a mostly a misdirected rant at Multiplayer Storytelling.

I won't argue Half-Life or Portal (since I think Half-Life had good storytelling for its' time, with 2 being rather bad and not having played Portal). But Left 4 Dead has a totally different idea of storytelling I think. The idea is not that we are to follow the outbreak or get to see how it is handled or anything. The idea is that the players build their own Survival Horror story throughout the episodes being played.
When you play a game like Jade Empire you are supposed to say things like "And I totally did not see the plot twist coming! It was awesome!". When you play Left 4 Dead the idea is that you are supposed to say "And then he went down just as a wave spawned and we were three people with only handguns who had to protect the guy who was on the ground in the middle of the room! It was F-ING EPIC!"

In roleplaying terms (since I am a game master myself) it is the difference between White Wolfs Storytelling system and its' heavy focus on narrative and Dungeon crawling in a classical D&D session. One is all about telling an engaging story, the other is all about making a memorable experience.

wow you totally got me with the Sonic unleashed thing. I was totally gonna come in here and ask WTF, but i have the decency to read all the way through.

Anyway story belongs in games at different levels. A 40 hour RPG i want to have alot of story tellingme why i'm still playing at hour 28. Shooters i don't need story at all. I've always hated halo for a number of reasons but #2 is because to get to the shooty shooty i have to sit through several minutes of terrible story flat characters and sci-fi BS to get to it. I want to kill aleins is that so hard? CoD is actually pretty good about this (sometimes) but i may have a higher tolerance for it because history (and warfare in general) appeal to me.

best story in a shooter i've seen; Team Fortress 2. I just bought like two weeks ago i've sunk about 28 hours and it's just now getting pretty good.

Best story i've seen in a game so far; Tiny Tank or Kingdom Hearts 2.

Kmadden2004, in your cupboard that doesn't move? Does this mean you also have mobile cupboards?

I'm of the opinion that a story inexorably hurts the gameplay... unless that gameplay is some paper thin concept like "When Mario woke up, he was in the Mushroom Kingdom...". I would much rather see developers focus on the mechanics of the gameplay and leave story far behind.

(Also, I was just trolling you with Sonic Unleashed. Let's see if anyone ragequits the article and comments without reading all the way through.)

I suppose if you consider a quizzical eyebrow raise a forced emotional reaction, then consider your trolling successful.

edgeofblade:
I'm of the opinion that a story inexorably hurts the gameplay... unless that gameplay is some paper thin concept like "When Mario woke up, he was in the Mushroom Kingdom...". I would much rather see developers focus on the mechanics of the gameplay and leave story far behind.

This coming from someone with a Chrono Trigger (CT being an RPG) avatar seems a bit backwards to me.

edgeofblade:
I'm of the opinion that a story inexorably hurts the gameplay... unless that gameplay is some paper thin concept like "When Mario woke up, he was in the Mushroom Kingdom...". I would much rather see developers focus on the mechanics of the gameplay and leave story far behind.

Just Cause 2 sounds like your wet dream then, sir or madam

Good article as always, but what do you think about games where the stories are largely unimportant, such as a Mario game (By which I mean a platformer like Super Mario World, not an RPG like Paper Mario). While you may have your own opinion on whether or not the gameplay is any good, should the designers strive to create a meaningful story, or focus on getting the gameplay perfect?

Also, you got me with sonic unleashed, Bravo.

Shamus Young:
Experienced Points: The Story Snob

You don't have to put a story in your game, but if you do, try to make it not suck.

Read Full Article

Soooo glad I searched for a disclaimer at the bottom before reading anything else in the article

Good work with the Things About Stuff by the way, kinda reminds me of my Physics teacher

Darktau:
WTF SONIC UNLEASEHEDED!?!!??!!

Lol, no I did read it. :P

Jaredin:

Shamus Young:

Crunchy English:
[...]then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Really good way of putting it. Wish I'd put that in the column.

This is true, and where the world of FF13 went wrong in my opinion.

I love story, and narrative, but worlds never seem to be able to sustain them long enough

Im so much of a sucker for story I still wanna buy FF13 (Played first few hours on a mates copy) and skies of arcadia? :D

FF13 really let me down in that respect.

I'm cool with linearity, long cutscenes, JRPG tropes, turn based combat etc. but I was really hoping for a balls to the wall plot filled experience that merrily dragged me from one cool local to another whilst letting me fight cool bosses and watch melodramatic cutscenes. Instead I get stuck with long stretches of running through straight or slightly curved hallways fighting wave after wave of repetitive enemies with sometimes an hour or more passing between interjections of story. Even then it seems like the cutscenes are more about the characters ruminating on the dungeon they're in or throwing jargon back and forth more than it is about the overarching story.

Oh you son of a bitch, you almost had me with the Sonic Unleashed bit! I was very nearly about to jump straight to the comments and demand to know what legally questionable substance you were ingesting or inhaling and where you procured it.

Well, I am one of those few who finds storytelling a very important part of a game, and when it fails me I consider the game bad. My favourite games are such because of great story - anything from Bioware qualifies (also everyone should check out Witcher). Bottom line either do a good story or don't bother with it at all - don't do a half assed story just because you feel like you have to, because it will only make things worse.

Irridium:
Games don't need a story to be good. See Unreal Tournament 2004.
But when you try to shoe-horn a story on a well built multiplayer franchise (I know it started with Unreal, and was a story-based game, but I'm ignoring that), like they did with Unreal Tournament 3, then things just get stupid. For example, they tried to use flags- no, wait, F.l.A.G.s. to explain respawning. In the story you had to capture 3 flags to stop their respawners and- well the whole thing is just silly.

If your going to put a story in, make sure its good, and not a pain. Otherwise just don't bother.

And nice job with that Sonic Unleashed thing. I laughed.

I actually played through the campaign JUST because it was so silly. I laughed the whole time.

koriantor:

Irridium:
Games don't need a story to be good. See Unreal Tournament 2004.
But when you try to shoe-horn a story on a well built multiplayer franchise (I know it started with Unreal, and was a story-based game, but I'm ignoring that), like they did with Unreal Tournament 3, then things just get stupid. For example, they tried to use flags- no, wait, F.l.A.G.s. to explain respawning. In the story you had to capture 3 flags to stop their respawners and- well the whole thing is just silly.

If your going to put a story in, make sure its good, and not a pain. Otherwise just don't bother.

And nice job with that Sonic Unleashed thing. I laughed.

I actually played through the campaign JUST because it was so silly. I laughed the whole time.

True. Sometimes the bad stories are the most entertaining.

Got me with Sonic Unleashed.

As for all this player driven stuff, I do consider a story put forward superior to player created yarns. Now that said, I do like atmospheric, wordless stuff like you'll often find in say, Fallout 3, but only as a SUPPLEMENT to a proper tale.

Jaredin:

Shamus Young:

Crunchy English:
[...]then don't try to build a fifty hour story, build a world that will sustain 50 hours worth of player-built narratives.

Really good way of putting it. Wish I'd put that in the column.

This is true, and where the world of FF13 went wrong in my opinion.

I love story, and narrative, but worlds never seem to be able to sustain them long enough

It does not help that FF13's storyline is, how do we say, outlandish putting it nicely and pants on head retarded putting it bluntly. But many games when you come right down to it have stupid overal plots.

Bioshock could have been LUDICROUS with it's 1940s semi steam punk genetic mutants under the sea ideas. But it built a world arround them. A dammed good world, it tunred it's outlandishness to its favor deliverering disturbace and true connection were we could just have had "Oh bullshit!" Games give us a lot to swallow and creating a world in an interactive medium is paramount.

Another game with very scant story but a self sustained world is STALKER; Shadow of chernobyl.

Here is the basic plot; "Man gets amnesia. Man tires to find out why and kill some dude. Oh yeah and there might be a maic thing that makes wishes come true but there proabaly isn't" That's really it. But the richness of the Zone makes traditional plot come second, it's about mystery, expolartion and survival. Like L4D it's all premise but there are other things that happen along the way that you are never told, you experience them.

To go back to my FF13 example you just get dumped with loads of text (and i mean LOADS) to try and fill in the stuff in the story no one ever bothered explaining. This goes counter to the notion of "Interactive story telling" you know, being a game?

This article explains so much and makes sense and is how I feel. But I am a huge story lover and very picky about the story in games.

Irridium:

koriantor:

Irridium:
Games don't need a story to be good. See Unreal Tournament 2004.
But when you try to shoe-horn a story on a well built multiplayer franchise (I know it started with Unreal, and was a story-based game, but I'm ignoring that), like they did with Unreal Tournament 3, then things just get stupid. For example, they tried to use flags- no, wait, F.l.A.G.s. to explain respawning. In the story you had to capture 3 flags to stop their respawners and- well the whole thing is just silly.

If your going to put a story in, make sure its good, and not a pain. Otherwise just don't bother.

And nice job with that Sonic Unleashed thing. I laughed.

I actually played through the campaign JUST because it was so silly. I laughed the whole time.

True. Sometimes the bad stories are the most entertaining.

I find it funny that we were talking about this earlier today.

O.T. I think I may have to link this article to my friends who constantly spout @stories in games aren't important." because you pretty much summed up my views Shamus.

The reason stories have become so integral to a game's value is actual gameplay has become so completely homogenized by rigidly defined genre labeling, with the graphics all relying entirely upon unreal3 or source, that only thing game can use anymore to set themselves apart from other entries into a particular genre is... story.

Thus, "story snobs" aren't so much expecting games to be movies, they're expecting games to be good in the only way they really can be anymore.

Another problem with gaming going mainstream is its now in a state of rot. None of the big developers need to change much of anything about the formulas they currently employ, because for every person whos bored by [mainstream game #27b], two more people will have their socks blown completely off.

A problem with gaming in general (that will simply make the mainstream all the worse), is compared to movies, art, writing, etc, gaming's mainstream is defined by level of excess that makes everything else completely insignificant. Sure, [baysplosion movie 94d] will cost a ton of money and make a ton of money, but because of the low basic costs of film (get people, film), independent works can compete on a real level, and push the format forward no matter what hollywood says or does (the fuckers). The point I'm trying to make is the mainstream of gaming is like [baysplosion movie 94d] and independent gaming is like a 15 minute long silent movie with a pipe organ soundtrack. Meaning all advancement must come from the mainstream... meaning gaming is fucked.

Of course, hollywood has stepped up their game in ensuring no forward progress of "their" format with the "indie" genre. Films that exist only to subvert the viability of true independent work.

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