The Story Snob

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I'd certainly give credit to Rockstar with their sandbox games like Red Dead and Grand Theft Auto series respectively. Their racing games are... well, racing. What more story do you need other than you have to continue to compete? Why else are you playing the damn game if you DON'T want to race?
I also thought Saints Row didn't do too bad of a job telling a story. It wasn't quite top-notch, but provided enough motivation to continue playing.

However, I have witnessed some flash games with a more compelling story than some big budget titles. And what does that say? A couple of kids in a bedroom can craft a better story than hired professionals.
Also, I feel sometimes that some games focus entirely too much on a story, giving you the impression you are playing more of a semi-interactive movie than a game. Mass Effect 2 had moments like that, just moving from checkpoint to checkpoint to see a story unfold through cut scenes. Not that I am complaining because it offered a slight respite from the action, but there have been games that give you a little actual game time and a majority of cut scenes.

I too grew up in the 8-bit era where cut scenes weren't long drawn-out ten minutes mini-movies to tell the story. We used our imagination to fill in the blanks sometimes. But decent story-driven games like Red Dead Redemption (which I'm still currently knee-deep in) give me decent hope for the future.

I reject the entire concept of a "story snob." There is only good storytelling or bad storytelling and people who enjoy it or are oblivious and just want to "Hulk smash!"

My excitement about video games is the raft of new and exciting ways we can interact with story. By tinkering with how much is exposition through cut scenes and the like and how much is experiential through game play.

This is another way the movie comparison breaks down. This is an entirely new and different form and it is just beginning to be explored by talented game creators. Each new success is really exciting and revolutionary and even the noble failures offer some instruction.

Shamus, I am enjoying everything of yours I have recently read and am eagerly backtracking through your work. It's like breaking open a treasure chest!

I have to agree with this article 100%. All my life I've been asking myself one question when it comes to games: If it isn't meant to be used, then why did they waste time on it?

That question isn't just about the story of a game, but about ANYTHING in the game. RPGs are the worst culprit for making me ask the question, and a lot of it boils down to spells. Specifically, status-ailment spells. They always feel completely needless or redundant. Anytime you see a "Sleep" or "Silence" spell in an RPG you can bet one of three things:

A) The spell has about a 10% hit rate.
B) The character casting the spell could be casting a spell that would just kill the target anyway.
C) All of the above.

Seems C tends to be the usual culprit. But seriously, load-up any RPG you play, ANY of them. You will have at LEAST one spell like that in your caster's spellbook (or if you have buy them, then it's collecting dust in the store's shelves), and with some RPGs you might even have dozens of them. Final Fantasy is probably the worst at this to varying degrees depending on which game.

And it isn't just spells. Sometimes it's character classes, sometimes it's a piece of gear that the developers HAVE to know is useless by the time you get it (they made the game for cripes sake), maybe a useless type of potion... basically just anything in any game where you ask about it and the common response is "It's garbage don't worry about it". My question at that point (assuming I could ask the developers) is "Why did you bother putting it in there, then?" If a game has even one flaw to it, then that useless spell or item is development time that could have been spent polishing that flaw.

Hoy... that turned-out a little more ranty than expected.

I'm in the "gameplay first" camp, but Sins of a Solar Empire is an example of a really good game that essentially has no story, and feels empty as a result. Playing it, I feel adrift without much motivation to conquer the system other than killing time. Story can make all the difference in filling in a game world.

Not G. Ivingname:

Shamus Young:
Sonic Unleashedand

Umm... you thought Sonic Unleashed, the game that brought the most annoying character that the Sonic world has ever brought upon us, had a good story?

Hahahahaha, successful troll is successful.

In my opinion gaming can only go so far regarding the quality of the story, especially gaming in today's form (read: no adventure games). The best thing a game can hope for is to craft a convincing world around a sound premise, not come off as ridiculous and interweave the story closely with the gameplay so it feels fresh and interactive. Therefore simple stories with an emotional impact work best in this medium. When you try to get too verbal, you get snorefests (sorry Bioware, absolutely noone actually sat down and read your Codex). If you want to occupy your mind with intriguing, exciting cobweb-like stories, movies are the way to go (see Memento or The Usual Suspects) and of course books. The difference is that movies can go both ways, they can also be very simple but with great emotional impact (see: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0376968/ ), but I don't think this is the case with videogames.

Bah! you got me with the Sonic claim. I think my eyes actually bulged out a bit from the sheer intensity of my wtf reaction. lol. Also great article, games should have a good story or little to no story.

If a game with good gameplay but a crappy story should remove the story elements, then shouldn't a game with a good story but crappy gameplay remove the gameplay elements?

pyrus7:
If a game with good gameplay but a crappy story should remove the story elements, then shouldn't a game with a good story but crappy gameplay remove the gameplay elements?

Sure, but then they should nolonger call it a "game", but rather an animation.

pyrus7:
If a game with good gameplay but a crappy story should remove the story elements, then shouldn't a game with a good story but crappy gameplay remove the gameplay elements?

The logic follows, but then you are left with either a) a movie, or b) an adventure game. As much as I like adventure games, they all can't be The Longest Journey. Sooner or later (as they already have in the past) they will become stale and we will get stuck with our second JRPG genera.

The Ultimate tale of woe of a tacked on story is Zero Wing. The intro was added for the console release and never actually existed in the arcade versions, it was meant to be a quick exposition on what was going on but turned out to be

1. Completely unecessary and

2. well you know the rest

Fable 2 would be better without the main story...I haven't read any one else's comments so someone may have said that before me but anyway...

pyrus7:
If a game with good gameplay but a crappy story should remove the story elements, then shouldn't a game with a good story but crappy gameplay remove the gameplay elements?

Yes I do believe they should...and go make a book or a movie...or find someone else who can make a good game to go with there good story because plenty of games suffer from that...

I'm a HUGE story snob! I've often said, "No story, no point [in my playing]!" This goes for any form of entertainment; books, movies, gaming like D&D. Action without the motivation and joy of interesting characters, plot development, and generally imaginative foreplay for my brain, is not interesting action.

Take the movies, Transformers 1 and 2 by Bay. Forget for a minute that Bay butchered a childhood icon on a multitude of levels, and focus on the "story" and "characters." As per the original, there's about a bazzinion different transformers on either side. But when they start biting the dust in all the action, do we really care? No. Looks cool. Bay can really crash a car, and make it look impressive, but we don't really care when that transformer dies. Take Optimus Prime; he died in the original series, and I CRIED for a whole day! I was lost in a sea of sorrow for this robo truck that had a depth of character my child-brain couldn't understand. He died, I cried, and the show was instantly sure to stay in my mind forever. Bay killed Optimus, and yaknow what? Don't care. There was no real character development.

(I wouldn't have minded that Transformers was focused on the humans more than the Transformers themselves, if the humans had interesting character development that made me actually care about them. Also, I'm sorry I'm going all MovieBob on you all. :) I needed an example and "Megan Fox not in transformers 3" in the links below gave me what I needed.)

I was surprised when I saw Sonic Unleased. I thought, "really? It's got a story worthy of a story snobs praise? Huh. Maybe I should give it a shot." Almost had me there, mr smartypants. :)

Not G. Ivingname:

Tom Phoenix:

Not G. Ivingname:

Shamus Young:

Not G. Ivingname:

Shamus Young:
Sonic Unleashedand

Umm... you thought Sonic Unleashed, the game that brought the most annoying character that the Sonic world has ever brought upon us, had a good story?

Took until comment #40 until we got one!

:)

Excuse me?

Shamus Young:
(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.)

In any case, brilliant article, Shamus. I could not agree more with your thoughts.

I think the problem with game developers is that they are unwilling to pay for top quality storytelling. They are willing to hire top-of-the-line artists, voice actors, musicians.....but when it comes to story, they are content with using a scribble a developer made during lunch.

Basically, if they want to convey good stories, they need to start hiring people that will make good stories. They should not be content with merely making something up as they go along.

Oh... I am a moron.

Takes a big man to admit when he's been had. :) And you have been had ever so gloriously. ;) Let this be a finger waggling lession to you, young man! Always finish reading the article before challenging something it has to say. :)

Not G. Ivingname:

Shamus Young:
Sonic Unleashedand

Umm... you thought Sonic Unleashed, the game that brought the most annoying character that the Sonic world has ever brought upon us, had a good story?

TsunamiWombat:

SONIC. UNLEASHED!?

manwhat?

^ Point and laugh kids. Point and laugh.

Shamus Young:

Took until comment #40 until we got one!

:)

Well, I'd say that that says a lot about your articles and the The Escapist community. Crushing majority of people will read your articles through before commenting. That can't be a bad thing.

As far as games go, these days I mostly think that no story is the best story. I'm tired of having these C grade game stories shoved in my face when I just want to plaaaay. It's like if I bought a punk rock album that had 2 minute punk songs interspersed with some damp fart reading bad children's stories to me. And they mastered the disc all as one track so I can't even skip to the good stuff.

I'm perhaps the biggest story snob and find very few game stories to be up to snuff but stories are not the only thing in my life. I wish that people would stop being so obsessed with stories so I can have my games back.

When you said Sonic Unleashed, I thought maybe all the shit I've heard about it was from retarded haters. Like the ones you always see lurking around games like Halo.

But I guess there really is no love for it. Huh.

Other than that, I do agree with the 'less is more' aspect. For example, I'd rather play a game written by George Orwell (if you haven't read his stuff, he manages to cram profound amounts of detail into the tiniest of spaces) than one by, say, Charles Dickens (who was well known for drawing things out. Probably the inventor of Filler episodes, bless his soul).

Firia:

Not G. Ivingname:

Tom Phoenix:

Not G. Ivingname:

Shamus Young:

Not G. Ivingname:

Shamus Young:
Sonic Unleashedand

Umm... you thought Sonic Unleashed, the game that brought the most annoying character that the Sonic world has ever brought upon us, had a good story?

Took until comment #40 until we got one!

:)

Excuse me?

Shamus Young:
(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.)

In any case, brilliant article, Shamus. I could not agree more with your thoughts.

I think the problem with game developers is that they are unwilling to pay for top quality storytelling. They are willing to hire top-of-the-line artists, voice actors, musicians.....but when it comes to story, they are content with using a scribble a developer made during lunch.

Basically, if they want to convey good stories, they need to start hiring people that will make good stories. They should not be content with merely making something up as they go along.

Oh... I am a moron.

Takes a big man to admit when he's been had. :) And you have been had ever so gloriously. ;) Let this be a finger waggling lession to you, young man! Always finish reading the article before challenging something it has to say. :)

I am sorry :(

Very well said, I completely agree. If you go to a coffee shop and order a coffee, and they bring you out a plate with a truly outstanding coffee with a side of dog feces on toast, it's really OK to complain about that. "If you didn't want a crap sandwich, you should have gone to a sandwich shop" is not an acceptable defense. If you're going to serve it, make it good or leave it off. There's nothing wrong with a good coffee by itself, nor with pac-man.

I do love to get my story on

haha, the sonic unleashed bit was funny, lol

Shamus:
(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.)

HAHAH! I was just about to throw a BF before that line.

You have redeemed yourself, good sir!

i honestly couldn't tell if the sonic thing was a troll, i have no intrest in playing it and i wads rubbish at it as a kid and never really got into it. imagine if there was a story worth its salt in there, i'd never know

Da Ork:
Fable 2 would be better without the main story...I haven't read any one else's comments so someone may have said that before me but anyway...

Nah, I don't remember reading anything about it. But yeah, I agree.
The whole game was fun, and the sidequests were usually unique, interesting, and funny.

Its just the main story that sucks ass. At the very least they could have swapped the roles of Lucien and Reaver.

Madshaw:
i honestly couldn't tell if the sonic thing was a troll, i have no intrest in playing it and i wads rubbish at it as a kid and never really got into it. imagine if there was a story worth its salt in there, i'd never know

Shamus:
(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.)

So... yeah.

I hate Story in games.

Too many AAA titles seem to be developed not by video game designers, but by frustrated film directors.

Just take that $100,000,000 and make a movie, already.

A game is a system of rules supporting your interactive participation that may involve some challenge and/or discovery yielding a "reward".

A pre-scripted narrative limits the player's freedom of choice as it has to funnel your progress towards some well-defined plot-point.

Alternative narrative paths leading to equally cathartic multiple endings are rare.

Developers would rather you saw everything on the first play-through than give you real value for money. Lazy reviewers may be the reason.

However, I don't mind Story introducing a game's own emergent narrative as in Left4Dead, or something as simple as Robotron 64:


Inspired by his never ending quest for progress, in 2084 man perfects the Robotrons: a robot species so advanced that man is inferior to his own creation. Guided by their infallible logic, the Robotrons conclude: The human race is inefficient, and therefore must be destroyed.

You are the last hope of mankind. Due to a genetic engineering error, you possess superhuman powers. Your mission is to stop the Robotrons, and save the last human family: Mommy, Daddy, and Mikey.


Dumb, eh? But actually this is all I need in the way of a story...

The rest of the narrative I tell to myself and it is different every time I play as it is the history of my actions and the reactions of the robots.

TsunamiWombat:

Whenever I bang on my "this story sucks" drum I invariably get someone asking me, "Why don't you just go watch a movie if you want to see a story so bad?" Which seems to imply that you shouldn't expect good stories from games. But if you think videogame stories have to suck, then you've been playing the wrong games. KOTOR, Jade Empire, Thief, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Max Payne, Sonic Unleashed and the aforementioned Left 4 Dead all manage to deliver both engaging gameplay and a well-written story.

SONIC. UNLEASHED!?

manwhat?

Ooooh looks like he got another one!

Gethsemani:

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.

That just sounds like a choose your own adventure book, I hate those. I feel there is no story in the L4D games. Thegame just likes to trick you into thinking that there is one.

Sonic Unleashed? Sonic Unleashed?? ::points and snickers::

Uncompetative:
I hate Story in games.

I strongly recommend Planescapse:Torment for your symptoms.

Uncompetative:
Too many AAA titles seem to be developed not by video game designers, but by frustrated film directors.

Oh, God yes. Hideo Kojima and David Jaffe should read this.

Uncompetative:
A game is a system of rules supporting your interactive participation that may involve some challenge and/or discovery yielding a "reward".

Even though the concept of reward can be debated and subverted.

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

Personally I find the major problem with video game stories is that more often than not all we get are story concepts that were never truly realized. Of course this isn't always true and some games manage it quite nicely. But the majority just have a basic idea with no follow through.

Of course occasionally that can work to the game's advantage. Crackdown had so little in the way of actual story, but as a result the tale of my Agent became my own to create. But a proper narrative would have been nice. Only time will tell if the sequel can shake things up and give us what the first didn't.

I grew up in the Atari generation, when story was something that was occasionally written in the manual but never put into the game. So any time I get a good game story it's like a sweet tasty bonus to the fun. I wish more developers would take the time to make something memorable for us to encounter between the gun fights.

SONIC UNLEASHED???? SONIC UNLEASHED??!!!! How can you say that that had a great story?????

*throws chair at Shamus*

*ragequits*

:p

lol didn't even catch that Sonic Unleashed bit until the note at the bottom. I believe a good story can make a good game into a great one, but a bad story won't ruin solid gameplay for me

Shamus!

I disagree!

I think the Resident Evil games have good stories. Because, for their time, I think "zombie virus" concept was pretty new, if not to be started by the Resident Evil games. I could be wrong, as I haven't researched it, but it was the first piece of media that I ever found that idea in. Dialogue was pretty bad, sure, but the story itself was pretty cool, I thought.

I think the real reason people look down on the Resident Evil games is that their ideas started getting used in other media. Other games, movies, that kind of stuff.

Even if I'm wrong, I don't think that they have atrocious story, at least.

Wow, I glanced right over the Sonic Unleashed comment...

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