The Story

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bjj hero:

Neogeta:

Disagree, we like getting locked out of and into choices, cuz we actually BUY the game, spend our money on ONE game, and want to be rewarded for multiple play thrus. Don't be so cocky and think that since u get to play lots of games that we all do. It would be dumb if your choices in dialogue had no effect. If that was the case, why even have them??? Gosh i dont like this guy.

Is "we" like the royal we? I buy my games and there are very few games I give multiple play throughs. I have a family, a career, other interests and a life away from my console and PC. I am not 16 with time to game 8 hours a day, gamers are individuals with different lifestyles.

If I get a satisfying play through where I feel like I have experienced all a game has to offer then do I need a second play through? Multiple play throughs via withholding content feels like a cheap way to extend the life of a title.

On a seperate note, you are posting on a forum, you have plenty of time to write your post. Were you really in such a hurry that you needed to use "u" and "cuz"?

Well first, you are right "we" isn't everyone; i was only speaking for most gamers, who have a limited amount of disposable income and thus can only purchase a few titles and like to get their money's worth with multiple DIFFERENT play thrus.

Second, uh withholding content seems to be the best way to extend the games life. In fact it's the only way i can think of. Whether it is keeping guns locked in muti-players like COD, or different characters like in WOW, or different story arcs like in DA:2. Personally i played L4D thousands of times without anything being withheld, but that was cuz i REALLY REALLY liked that gameplay, which is only personal preference, and cannot really be accounted for in game design.

Finally, dumb attempted cheap shot. Try to stay on point it u have something with some substance to say.

I'm kind of surprised they didn't mention Heavy Rain. Yahtzee seems to allude to their setup when he gets into the bit about timed responses, and the story is the gameplay. The dialogue tree is the gameplay for that matter.

bjj hero:

Neogeta:

Disagree, we like getting locked out of and into choices, cuz we actually BUY the game, spend our money on ONE game, and want to be rewarded for multiple play thrus. Don't be so cocky and think that since u get to play lots of games that we all do. It would be dumb if your choices in dialogue had no effect. If that was the case, why even have them??? Gosh i dont like this guy.

Is "we" like the royal we? I buy my games and there are very few games I give multiple play throughs. I have a family, a career, other interests and a life away from my console and PC. I am not 16 with time to game 8 hours a day, gamers are individuals with different lifestyles.

If I get a satisfying play through where I feel like I have experienced all a game has to offer then do I need a second play through? Multiple play throughs via withholding content feels like a cheap way to extend the life of a title.

On a seperate note, you are posting on a forum, you have plenty of time to write your post. Were you really in such a hurry that you needed to use "u" and "cuz"?

While I wouldn't be so pretentious as to assume my opinion stands for anyone but myself, I have to agree with Neogeta in that, even though I -rarely- give a game more than a single playthrough, I actually take a great amount of pleasure in the fact that the choices I make have consequences and that those consequences are helping to shape and form not only a story, but a world around me. Just as in real life, I make mistakes, sometimes big ones, these mistakes have consequences (Poor Thane, you will be missed) and those consequences are folded into the tapestry that becomes, in the case of my above example, my story of Commander Shepard.

Puzzlenaut:

Neogeta:

This is where games like the new Fallouts (which I otherwise love) and Mass Effect take me out of the game because I'm always worried about what I might be unknowingly screwing up by selecting one dialogue choice over another. Like yourself, gaming is my job as well as my hobby, and I don't have time for unlimited playthroughs of a game, so I want the one play I DO get to be good. But I find myself afraid to pick dialogue options as I please, and instead scrutinize a walkthrough for fear that if I choose poorly then NPC 1 will die later, or Quest-Line X will lock down... all because I said "Yes" to someone who seemed nice at the time.

Disagree, we like getting locked out of and into choices, cuz we actually BUY the game, spend our money on ONE game, and want to be rewarded for multiple play thrus. Don't be so cocky and think that since u get to play lots of games that we all do. It would be dumb if your choices in dialogue had no effect. If that was the case, why even have them??? Gosh i dont like this guy.

You sound much more cocky than this guy, and he completely excuses himself earlier by admitting that most people get to play single games more than him as he is ferried onto the next one after a week.
I think you just don't like him because he's not Yahtzee or Moviebob, quite frankly.

In other news, these two guys are better than the other two -- the other two are great, but they are afraid to offer their opinions, seemingly.

Fair opinion i suppose, except i don't know who Moviebob is. I know he does videos and articles but i don't read/watch um. But quick, so because he excuses himself, my opinion is somehow wrong?
:confused:
Also Yahtzee kinda agreed with him a little so idk exactly what you were reading if u think i'm a Yahtzee/Moviebob lover. But i'm sure he's glad you're sticking up for little ol' him vs. Big Bad Me.

I kinda want to reference the way Enslaved did things. You interacted while other characters were doing their thing. It may not have been the best example, but it felt more natural to see them getting along and working together with all they went through than Dragon Age 2's radial menu of blank face for two minutes while I get up for a piss.

Developers are obsessed with this "gameplay | cutscene | gamplay | cutscene | gameplay" approach to game design.

yeah maybe they do that because cutscence can be skipped. in Half-Life 2 you will have talks (some longer then other) and some people will not care about and there is no way to skip them

Graham Stark: Yahtzee, it's funny you mention Alpha Protocol, because it did another thing I liked when dealing with conversation trees, which is making your choices largely unimportant to the story

ehm aren't you thinking of a Bioware game there?

Anyone else find "extra consideration" a bit boring? I only really read it because I like yahtzee's videos and articles. It's a nice idea, and if you're really into analysing video games, then it might be for you; but I just can't get much entertainment out of it. Yahtzee is only good when he's abusing people/games/objects. And I don't know who the rest of the people are, but they seem....meh.

i was wondering why shamus, and indeed graham werent part of the first one, i think like someone else mentioned a rotation of everyone each week would be awesome, because everyone involved in extra consideration so far, is pretty much everyone who i visit the escapist for

It's not uncommon to hear people say stuff like 'stories were better ten years ago' or something similar, but they often can't put the finger on why they think that. The unreasonable will make up crazy reasons whereas the less crazy try to pick out details that appealed to them personally.

But, I think it goes deeper than that and if we focus on RPGs I have two things to suggest.

1: Voice acting sucks!

I'm not saying game voice acting is doomed to suck from now 'till eternity, but as a general rule it's just not that good for various reasons. Even if the actors are capable they're simply handed a heavy binder full of words to be read into a microphone. As long as that tasks is completely things like characterization, shifts in emotion depending on the situation and that unshakable feeling that they're not talking to you so much as reading a list to you aren't important enough to get right.

In games like Torment and the Baldur's Gates there was very little acting. Most characterization was done through text where shifts in mood and expression were described for you to imagine rather than implied and not really followed up on by the actor/character model. Basically, we remember the stories and characters as better because we were left to, for the most part, imagine them rather than have a bland performance forced upon us.

Still, I think the craziest part is the gamers of today who claim to love the acting in games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, standards fallen so low that they would be blown away by some random soap opera on tv. The procedures for voice acting need to improve a lot before they can compete with our imaginations.

2: The main character could be smart.

In the more recent BioWare games I get the feeling the people who claimed Inception could never be successful because of its complexity have a hand in the game of modern video games. Most responses in BioWare's more recent titles results in the NPC calling you a moron and disproving sort of brushing the protagonist like a dumb child. And often that's what the dialog feels like. Even the 'power'-responses that you gain through influence or good/evil-levels seem flimsy and of no higher consideration than any other words one could've chosen. But the jesus-touch of the protagonist makes even the most ineffectual argument seems Ciceronian if backed up by enough paragon points. It heals the addicts, it stops the ruthless murderers hand, it scares the fearless warrior races.

Of course there are plenty of examples of this in earlier works from various companies, but there's one thing that's slightly different. As long as there were intelligence and/or wisdom stats there was room for longer, more convincing arguments, not seldom something that extended past one exchange. The extended conversation you have with Dak'kon in Planescape Torment is a pretty good example of this, were you actually start shattering a man's perception of reality. It's not quick, it's not badly underbuilt and it's not something that has immediate effect on the character.

All in all, I think it's time to do something with the 'intelligence'-tool again, because playing as a idiot space marine or medival moron isn't really that flattering since it suggests the player isn't smart enough to figure things out past what you can put into the character's mouth. If you're constantly several steps ahead so to speak it just feels frustrating, and you can't adapt by for instance maxing out the intelligence stat :(

edit: As for Alpha Protocol, your choices can change the story monumentally. What is this dude talking about?

Neogeta:

Well first, you are right "we" isn't everyone; i was only speaking for most gamers, who have a limited amount of disposable income and thus can only purchase a few titles and like to get their money's worth with multiple DIFFERENT play thrus.

Second, uh withholding content seems to be the best way to extend the games life. In fact it's the only way i can think of. Whether it is keeping guns locked in muti-players like COD, or different characters like in WOW, or different story arcs like in DA:2. Personally i played L4D thousands of times without anything being withheld, but that was cuz i REALLY REALLY liked that gameplay, which is only personal preference, and cannot really be accounted for in game design.

Finally, dumb attempted cheap shot. Try to stay on point it u have something with some substance to say.

The average gamer US gamer is 34 years old so time is more likely to be the more limited resource than income. Your "we" still may not be most gamers.

You are right, games unlock more content as you play. It still feels like it is a cheap way to make your game go further by locking out a large chunk of content on your first play through. I don't just get to drop into the remaining content on the second play through, I have to go through all of the things I've already seen and done. If we are talking Bioware then that is a lot of text and cut scene that needs to be skipped.

You said that the game design for L4D doesn't account for the replay value. I disagree. It was designed to be played through over and over again without withholding any content. It is also nice how the story is in the back ground with visual cues, messages on walls etc. If you want to take your time and drink the game in you gather the story in a much more engaging way than the mountains of cut scenes used by other games. You can also blast through it and shoot zombies if you are not interested. That, to me, is good story telling in videogames. Not unskippable monologues from super soldiers.

But how would one make turn based, more traditional RPGs more seamless in regards to story telling? Would there have to be a change in gameplay to make that happen, or would the environment tell more while dialogue became more fluid. I suppose traditional RPGs don't have that same problem, since it's an expected outcome of the genre and the narrative can be treated in a book like manner at some points, but it doesn't mean there can't be improvements. SMT does some interesting things at times with this, such as the final battles in Persona 3 and 4, but otherwise there arn't many leaps and bounds for the RPG genre.

I wish there had been a bit more exchange between everyone but it was cool to let some different people in to the discussion. Hopefully Shamus and Graham will be in this again because I both appreciate their opinions as well as thinking that adding more intelligent opinions to this is always good.

Comment to Graham about Fallout and Mass Effect arbitrary conversation options locking out things: I don't know about Fallout but I know in Mass Effect that this rarely happens (I can think of once and it is more a talk too long leads to death then anything else). I know this particularly because I was worried about missing out on cool experiences or cool characters so I looked in to it previous to my playing and found that while your choices have effects, they so far have not locked out anything (especially within the game the decision is made). These decisions probably will lock out things in the third game but what it keeps you from doing should not be surprises (such as collector base decision or geth decision)

Couple things. First, I'm in the same boat as many others here where, if a game gives me the chance to make choices, I want those choices to mean something. I want to be locked out of certain things if I choose Option A instead of Option B. It allows the developers to tell a much richer story that rewards player interaction as opposed to laughing at it and games that offer the illusion of a choice with no impact at all are little better than old JRPGs that used the infinite YES?/NO? loop. If you feel robbed of your play experience by not "winning" the game the way you wanted then you were probably approaching the game with the wrong intention.

Secondly, I'm one of those who doesn't like the Half Life way of storytelling (or, more particularly, conversations). I don't want the NPCs to talk at me while I'm running around the room jumping on the architecture. Scenarios like that, or even the possibility of them existing should you choose to sit there and be a good boy, make me feel like the game world doesn't even care if I'm there or not. That sort of thing works for world events, but it's the complete opposite of immersion when interaction is assumed. Next time you are having a conversation with someone in real life try to run around the room and rifle through their drawers. Approximately no one in the world would just continue their conversation as normal under those circumstances.

Hey look, it's Graham! Cartoon Graham! Welcome, Cartoon Graham!

I largely agree with what was discussed; most games today want to have a pretence of a story, but you shouldn't bother if you don't think you can deliver an experience like that. The problem is that most people don't think of stories the way they are presented in videogames, which is why people don't follow the HL lead - they think of stories as linear things, not exploratory things. I remember one of the Deus Ex devs talking about how his team complained when he said not all things would be available to the player depending on the path they took, because they didn't want to work on a major scenario or cutscene the player might skip; likewise, there's the railroading DM who treats her players as video game characters and merely sets up a story for them to drive through without input. Perhaps a good video game writer is not one who is otherwise a good writer, but one who is a good GM.

Dectilon:

1: Voice acting sucks!

I'm not saying game voice acting is doomed to suck from now 'till eternity, but as a general rule it's just not that good for various reasons. Even if the actors are capable they're simply handed a heavy binder full of words to be read into a microphone. As long as that tasks is completely things like characterization, shifts in emotion depending on the situation and that unshakable feeling that they're not talking to you so much as reading a list to you aren't important enough to get right.

In games like Torment and the Baldur's Gates there was very little acting. Most characterization was done through text where shifts in mood and expression were described for you to imagine rather than implied and not really followed up on by the actor/character model. Basically, we remember the stories and characters as better because we were left to, for the most part, imagine them rather than have a bland performance forced upon us.

Still, I think the craziest part is the gamers of today who claim to love the acting in games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, standards fallen so low that they would be blown away by some random soap opera on tv. The procedures for voice acting need to improve a lot before they can compete with our imaginations.

Too true. The need to voice everything and to have HD visuals to go with it has really hurt story telling. It is so obvious that voice work and "acting" (facial expressions, body language, casually doing paper work while talking...) are done seperately. It really kills it for me. We have worlds populated by stationary, staring, socially aukward, zombies impersonating real charecters in video games. at what point will we be able to have actors controlling body movement, face, body language and voice at the same time? It will really help story telling and charecterisation... if the actors and script are good.

I agree that at its core, gaming is about interactivity and player agency. It's true that the "purest" game story will be one where a player stays in control except where it's important to the story that they lose that control.

BUT

At the same time, there is no one "right" way to tell a story in games. There is only what's fun, entertaining, enjoyable. I find BioWare games to be immensely entertaining, despite their reliance on cutscenes and dialog wheels. These things are part of the experience and make it what it is.

Too often, I feel that opponents of cutscenes and cinematic storytelling in games would prefer a world in which no games tell stories in that way and I think that would be an incredibly tragic loss. There are many ways to tell a story and gaming is one medium for doing so. We shouldn't be trying to exclude certain methods just because they don't fit into our idea of a pure game.

"I'd like an NPC to start talking to me as soon as I come close to them, rather than staring mutely at me until I hit the context-sensitive prompt flashing over their heads. I'd then like to still be in control of my character throughout the conversation, walking around,"

You've played the Darkness Yahtzee and that offers a flowing form of reralistic dialog that doesn't limit control between ingame playing... they call to you as you move towards them, they curse at you for moving away, the communication is both witty and gritty adding to the story or to the mini quest you're currently doing, the camera does switch postitions so you can see a perspective where you see yourself and you can still move as freely as you would...

Small Spoiler Alert

... Having said that besides being an awesomely layed out game... Jackie Estacado is a sort of Keanu Reeves of an actor showing as little emotion as possible... Even though he ain't a pussy and like most of us would rather rage at Paulie than cry over your girl he just murdered in front of you.

Oh and great comments about Saints Row Graham... You're right on the money!

How about a discussion regarding moral choice in games some other time??

I think everyone should get the cartoon avatar treatment, Yahtzee, Bob, and James included. I really freakin' like them. Whoever drew them should get many cookies.

...or just money

Graham Stark: Yahtzee, it's funny you mention Alpha Protocol, because it did another thing I liked when dealing with conversation trees, which is making your choices largely unimportant to the story. If they're giving you a time limit to answer, they'd pretty much have to, but you could make whatever choice you felt like, knowing that while you might miss out on something fun by picking the "wrong" option, you wouldn't ruin your whole experience.

I completely disagree with this. If your choice is meaningless aside from deciding if you fill the good or evil bar, what is the point? This was one of the biggest disappointments about Mass Effect 2 for me. I played both paragon and renegade and I was rather let down by the fact that neither choice seemed to have an immediate impact on your interaction with the world. Aside from one choice about a minor character (I'm sorry but Morinth and Samara are the same character with a pallet swap), your crew accepts your decisions regardless. I found that it took the immersion quality out of the game when I realized that it didn't matter what I did, sense the journey would be the same.

An example of this choice done well is from a previous Bioware game: KOTOR. At the end of the game, if you chose the dark side, characters in your party will not accept your decision and fight you. It made the story much better when you realized that your party members would stick to their principles and you could lose them if you made the wrong decisions. It added a whole new element to the game where you not only considered game mechanics like whether decision A got you more experience than decision B but also if your decisions could lose you party members.

Dectilon:

In games like Torment and the Baldur's Gates there was very little acting. Most characterization was done through text where shifts in mood and expression were described for you to imagine rather than implied and not really followed up on by the actor/character model. Basically, we remember the stories and characters as better because we were left to, for the most part, imagine them rather than have a bland performance forced upon us.

Still, I think the craziest part is the gamers of today who claim to love the acting in games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, standards fallen so low that they would be blown away by some random soap opera on tv. The procedures for voice acting need to improve a lot before they can compete with our imaginations.

Well it's obviously the voice acting, not the physical acting that impresses people. A lot can be conveyed through the tone of the voice with simple visual cues in the body. What we see in recent BioWare games isn't as good as say, what we're seeing from L.A. Noire, but it does the job. Just as a person can become immersed in a classic sprite-based RPG, where simple visuals imply detail and invite the player to imagine how it might "really look," physical acting in BioWare games--when coupled with the top-notch voice acting--suggests enough of the reality of the scene to tell the story and let our mind fill in the blanks.

So it's not high-quality body motion, but it's a significant step up from static NPCs and text boxes (which would feel very out of place in their games). It's a trade-off really. BioWare could probably give us much better physical acting in their characters, but at the cost of all the different dialogue options. They use a modular approach where specific clips are strung together to get the right feel instead of one continuous scene. I compare it to Red Dead Redemption, which has noticeably better character animation in its cutscenes, but nowhere near the level of choice.

Holy Cow, Yahtzee's seen the Plinkett reviews! They're awesome, for those who haven't seen it.

I remember the bit I played through of GTA 4 being really jarring. Unlike previos games they set up this likable character who has a troubled past and who they were trying to make a fleshed out three dimensional person. The problem is that this guy who keeps saying "I don't want to kill any more people" is in a GTA game where the reason you are playing it is to drive around, cause mayhem, and slaughter vast amounts of people. And if he doesn't want to kill people any more, why can I only choose jobs that involve killing people. Personally, I felt like a dick playing it and stopped, while I had no problems with GTA 3.

To a comment graham made to Shamus at the end, I think that video games leaving more of the story to out imagination did make them better. Sure they didn't have a choice, but games today do, and more should choose it. Personally, when I played Half-life 2 I hadn't played the first one so I filled in the gaps myself and while I knew the plot I was constructing wasn't correct it was still fun. Just try playing through half-life 2 while rationalizing Freeman's muteness, I found it really fun. Every time I came to a radio in a resistance base calling for someone to respond I pictured Freeman tortured over his inability to respond and tell them that all of their friends are dead and that they should probably watch out for soldiers..

Evil Alpaca:

An example of this choice done well is from a previous Bioware game: KOTOR. At the end of the game, if you chose the dark side, characters in your party will not accept your decision and fight you. It made the story much better when you realized that your party members would stick to their principles and you could lose them if you made the wrong decisions. It added a whole new element to the game where you not only considered game mechanics like whether decision A got you more experience than decision B but also if your decisions could lose you party members.

They used that System again in the Dragon Age games didn't they?

and the setting of Mass Effect is different then that of KOTOR

MB202:
Holy Cow, Yahtzee's seen the Plinkett reviews! They're awesome, for those who haven't seen it.

I could never stand more then 30 second of that guys voice

and if I got it right then Yahtzee complained that all they where doing was just sitting there and talk? Didn't they do that in 12 Angry Men as well?

Different stroke for different folks.

Me i love a great epic cut scene like the final confrontation in mass effect 1, i love the interactive movie aspects of the metal gear series, not just because the story is so bat crap crazy but because the parts you do play are fun to play.

Older rpgs like fallout 1 and 2 get to be more varied in their dialogue simply cause it is just text, no voice actors to hire to sit in a booth for 12 hours a day for weeks on end recutting the same lines over and over to get the proper feel for a 2 min conversation branch in a game.

Lots of people love their stories, lots of people just want to shoot things and blow things up. It is very hard to please both camps.

Hence to put it in a mmo perspective many people do not even bother to read or listen to the quests, many of them do not want to sit through a cutscene no matter how well done it is, why tor could be sink or swim depending how they handle the dialogue and cutscenes since some people are not going to want to be arsed about them while other will want to listen and watch and pick their choices carefully. Granted many mmos standard dialogues boil down to go kill XX x, y, and zs for XXXX reward and X plus x. TOR better be a tad more creative in their quests if each and every quest giver is going to be spoken and in cutscene form.

Half life 2 in and of itself was just pure epic because the gameplay and the story are great. Not many games nail one or the other or both. Bioware does a decent job in many of it's games of lest giving us characters and events that seem to matter and therefore your choices matter.

ANd yea for your 50 to 60 dollars do you want a wholly linear rpg that lasts 25 to 40 hours and then your done with it or would you rather have the option to play things out a different way, bring different characters to your side, make events happen differently. Sadly the one thing that does fail pretty hard in those cases is those branching events do not mean a ton to the overall story. Picking dragon age and the like where the choice events seem to have a tiny bit to do with the story especuially since bioware has an official canon story for the outcome no matter if you do everything differently from what they want you to do.

Like you can piss all over the ashes of andraste in dao and kill leandria right then and there but by da2 she is a fairly key is background figure in the da2 story. Half tempted to go back to dao and kill here just to see what the hell happens in da2 if she is dead.

But it does fly in the face of choices matter when there is an official canon ending rather than the canon ending of the games is what you make of it. And if they do have a canon ending why even allow you options to kill certain npcs and etc.

Iron Lightning:
The only point of having dialogue options is to allow the player to make significant choices that affect the story.

What? There is only one function of dialogue within a story? Do you not find that idea somewhat limiting?

Eh, this wasn't a great one for me because there were no disagreement. I would have wanted to see someone taking an alternate opinion from someone else to drive the discussion, this one was more just brief and saying "A is good. I agree. B is good. I agree."

Which will happen when people are being honest about games and the issue ends up being not especially contentious, but still.

As for game stories, I think an issue that people should touch on is the problem of dialogue trees making characters too vague...I mean, take a bioware game, because it gives you all these options of reacting as good or evil it forces the game to make the character blank enough that any of these character options still work in the game. It inevitably ends up that your character becomes at best a sort of background observer who just ends up watching other people react to things and make decisions and occasionally chiming in with hitting something or saying "Yes, that sounds great"

Which makes the whole story less interactive feeling because it feels like everyone else is leading you around and it is really really hard to care about or connect with my character when they're just a blank slate.

Counterexample: Infinite Space (EXCELLENT storytelling)
Sure, you don't control Yuri's reactions, but giving him dialogue allows him to actually express himself actually makes him into a fleshed out character that I can care about leading to victory.

Srdjan Tanaskovic:

MB202:
Holy Cow, Yahtzee's seen the Plinkett reviews! They're awesome, for those who haven't seen it.

I could never stand more then 30 second of that guys voice

and if I got it right then Yahtzee complained that all they where doing was just sitting there and talk? Didn't they do that in 12 Angry Men as well?

Oh-ho, but you see, in 12 Angry Men, there was more to it than just standing and talking. The men moved around the room, , tested out theories, and above all, they actually showed some emotions in the movie. That, and the movie was WAY better-written than any of the Star Wars prequels. The problem with the Star Wars prequels is that they're just standing/sitting and talking to get expositionary dialogue out of the way so they can get to the CG-green screened action. Hell, even when they're talking there's a green screen, and it's through this that you can tell that these dialogue scenes are unnatural. You can just TELL that they're filling these talking scenes in an enclosed space, because there's little movement and all they do is say the lines they were supposed to say. There's nothing dynamic about any of it, and boring to boot. The review mainly uses the scene where Anakin reveals to Mace Windu that Palpatine is a Sith Lord as a primary example. This SHOULD be an exciting revelation, in which they learn that they're in trouble, but they just say they're lines and walk off screen at what can't even be called a brisk pace.

So yeah, even though his voice sounds weird, Plinkett makes SUCH good points throughout his reviews.

Oh thank goodness SOMEBODY has finally mentioned the story of GTA4. I honestly don't get why people were going around, giving it 10/10s, and saying the story was comparable to The Godfather when it just wasn't.

Sandbox games are probably the hardest games to write a story for because pacing goes completely out the window and it goes at the player's discretion. You need to keep the player's attention, so you give them a bunch of sidequests to do, but sometimes these sidequests don't fit with the whole story.

I'm pretty sure that Nico Belic was bipolar or schizophrenic or something. In one mission I had to keep a sniper watch over a "business meeting" with some mobsters and Nico eagerly accepted it and smiled, going "Alright, I'll do it." After that, I went around, did some stuff, went crazy with the police, and decided to go to another mission. I went to one of Nico's gay friends who wanted to take him on a relaxing boat ride, saying "It'll be fun!" to which Nico responded furiously with, "Fun? I'm trying to keep a low profile with mobsters and criminals going after me! I don't have time for your games!" and then he begrudgingly accepted, and somehow they ended up shooting some mobsters in the water.

Do you see the problem here? It's a huge inconsistency, and I can't really blame Rockstar for this (though I will) because it is pretty hard to keep a sandbox game with any form of consistency, let alone for the story. Red Dead Redemption was much better with this, but it still suffered from inconsistencies with John Marston (seriously, why did he need to go and help a revolution in Mexico? I had forgotten why I had come down there in the first place). Hopefully L.A. Noire will provide a better example of a story in a sandbox with consistent characterization, and consistent gameplay in general.

I love BioWare games but my replay of ME2 I'm doing right now (I just got it back from a friend) is really making it clear that the dialogue - while great for building a character - really does take you out of the game. It's really like ticknig a bunch of boxes. I'm doing an Renegade Femshep playthrough (in contrast to my first run of Paragon Manshep) and it's like Investigate > Option 1, Option 2, then move the analogue stick to the lower right to be a dick.
At the same time though, I want the best possible ending - I don't want to screw up so badly that the game becomes unwinnable or otherwise unpleasant. I don't care too much if I don't get a perfect run and keep everyone alive through the endgame, but I want to keep some people alive. So while I'm a dick to almost everyone and grab every Renegade QTE (while ignoring the Paragon ones) I'm still nice to most of my crew members. I bought Chakwas her brandy and toasted to Joker. I'm flirting like a mofo with Yeoman Chambers (even agreeing to call her Kelly), and I won't be rude to Joker even if I did refer to him as a cripple while the Normandy Mk.1 was going down in flames. I'm friendly but professional with Miranda (since I want to do her loyalty mission but I don't want to shag her) and I'll probably be nice to Garrus since I do want to shag him. I'm wondering if Femshep gets romance options with Jack? I don't really like Jack so if I lose her loyalty by taking advantage of her early on I'll probably do that then let her die.

These are all things I'm thinking about when plotting out my character. On playthrough 1 all I did wasp ick paragon dialogue options, flirt with everyone, turn down Jack then invite Miranda back to my room. Granted, I probably would have gone the Paragon route anyway because that felt more natural to me, but I'm glad I'm deliberately doing a Renegade run because the contrast is quite interesting.

Fallout 3/New Vegas feel a lot more unnatural to me. Maybe it's the voice acting. Maybe it's the plastic look and feel of the people who are talking to me. Maybe it's the fact that I'm scrolling down a list of options and most combat is via VATS so it feels like my involvement is basically just walking around and mashing the stimpack hotkey when I get into trouble.

Mass Effect and Fallout 3 have great stories and let me make choices that shape my experience, but i'm very aware that I'm making those choices.

The most engaging games for me are the ones where they're aren't really any choices, but the game flows in a natural way that doesn't feel linear. It is linear, but the game design makes me not care. This is why while Mass Effect 2 is a better game, I enjoy playing Modern Warfare 2 and Halo Reach a bunch more.

Yossarian1507:

Shamus Young:
1) Just about everyone who plays the game [HL2] agrees that this integration of gameplay and story is wonderfully done

No! Not everyone. I like the idea of the integration of gameplay and story (for example in Modern Warfare, where they did it right), but the way HL2 did it was horrible in my opinion, for two reasons:

1) I prefer no freedom (cutscene, scripted events in MW etc.) to the illusion of freedom that HL2 gives. Yes, you can run around, play with your gravity gun or whatever, but on a couple of occasions I was just screaming 'COME ON! LET ME AT IT! I could easily prevent the disaster, if you would just let me take the full control!' The ending of Ep 2 is a good example. I get it, you were hit by some sort of anti-gravity pulse or whatever, but so did Alyx and Eli, and somehow he could hit the advisor with a pipe. So I say - let me just blast it to hell with my weaponry. But no. It's a scripted event, and you can't do shit. God, that pissed me off so much. It's just annoying and extremely frustrating.

2) PACING! Oh my God, pacing! It's actually funny that Yahtzee writes about importance of it, while praising the storytelling of HL2. It's just way too slow. Too many monologues (because Gordon is a mute), while literally NOTHING happens. Say what you want, but if someone talks to you, and instead of listening, you're dicking around and throwing stuff against the wall because it's more interesting - that means someone screwed up. Big time.

Sorry for that outburst. I'm just so sick of people praising HL2 left and right. >.< It's not a bad game (though I didn't like it at all, and points above are about half of the reason why), but definitely not worth all the praise it gets.

Did you just praise MW story while saying HL2's was inferior? Sir be thankful for free speech or i would be obliged to murder you.

On the more serious side, i read both your main points and it essentially boils down to "I'm not shooting stuff, something is wrong!" while it's perfectly fine for you to prefer that kind of gameplay, don't attempt to twist things to match your world view. MW story is mediocre (with the exception of the ending that provided a nice atmosphere, assuming we are talking about MW 1, MW 2 was just a steaming pile of shit story wise), while Half-Life story is much more engaging and with a much better atmosphere.

Simple check, try to separate by plot development the different areas you experienced in the game, this is a good way to tell a story impact. When you think MW you have a bunch of slightly different shooting locations that blend together in a horrible mess, while HF can easily (even by non-fans) be separated and have a clearly stronger impression. Boat section, beginning oppressive city 17, ravenholm, citadel, antlions, it is all much richer and distinct.

constantcompile:
I wish Graham elaborated more on why he feels Saints Row II is better than GTA, but I found his comment about "the good ol' days" (stories aren't any better, they just leave less room for the superior writing of our imaginations to fill in the gaps) to be priceless, as well as surprising in the sense that he's telling this to Shamus - didn't Shamus himself write an article providing examples of this being the case, at one point? I'm certain I've read an article arguing that idea on The Escapist before.

I think it's perfectly clear why Saint's Row 2 far surpasses GTA4. It doesn't take itself so damn seriously! It doesn't have "Cousin, it is your cousin! Want to go to a titty bar?" every FIVE GOD DAMN SECONDS!! >.<

You could do whatever you want, HOWEVER you want. I also didn't see ANY linearity in SR2.. You had plenty of side events to do OR 3-4 gangs to take down.. And it didn't drag on. In GTA4, not only was it horrendously dull and lacked any colour whatsoever.. SR2 was vibrant, the city was YOURS to do what you want and Volition really didn't hold back any insanity.. Oh, and let's not forget the brilliance that is playing the single-player storyline in co-op.

---------------

Anyway, I quite like this new segment of the site. I also hope it has a revolving cast of contributors, rather than just Yahtzee, Bob & James. Seeing Graham & Shamus contribute is great!

As for THIS particular article, I am in full agreement with Graham. I believe I've stated before my incredible distaste for the moral choice system in Western RPGs.. I can't stand Mass Effect or Dragon Age, gameplay OR story progression. I tolerate Fable III, but under immense suffering. I don't exactly mind a few personal decisions here and there, but when it drastically affects the story and forces me to choose between "right or wrong", with a major downside being that some quests have to be avoided or NPC's could just drop dead or hate you, etc.. It really annoys me. Prime example in Fable III's mercenary camp. The Dweller Camp's leader, Sabine, gives the forced quest to clear out the mercenary camp and kill the leader, Saker. You infiltrate their base and end up fighting the big man himself. After "defeating" him, you have two choices. The "good" option, sparing his life.. And the "bad" option, killing the vile bastard.

Now, let's go back a step. "The FORCED quest to clear out the mercenary camp and KILL THE LEADER, Saker." That's the outline of the quest Sabine gives you. Naturally, I choose to kill Saker.. I return to Sabine, heralded as their lord and savior and promise to help them as King. It is HOURS LATER IN THE GAME when I decide to read through some of the quests in the BradyGames Fable III guide and find out that SAKER CAN BECOME A "LOYAL FOLLOWER" on the Road to Rule. WHAT. THE. FUCK. The quest clearly stated to "KILL HIM, HE IS A VILE PIG".. Yet he counts as a follower if spared? What about Sabine's request? None of that makes ANY sense..

See, it's no wonder I choose to play more Japanese RPGs lately, even resorting to going back to my precious Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy X!
Yeah. I'm going back and playing games that are ten to twelve years old, rather than playing most of the games around today. Granted, Final Fantasy games have their flaws and are by no means perfect (except for maybe IX, I honestly can't fault a game so brilliant) and yes, I definitely believe certain traits in JRPGs need a desperate change, but they are no better or worse than any Western RPG. They all have strengths. They all have weaknesses. But it says a lot about games of today when I'm resorting to playing decade old games instead..

Boy am I glad these guy aren't in charge of gaming industry. I love cutscenes and I think free roaming games can have good stories. GTA, Assassin's Creed and MAFIA come to mind. Seriously, they didn't mention Mafia? The characters, the story progression and character development, the pacing slowly building up to a grand finale? And they didn't even mention it?!

Also, what half-life 2 did isn't quite unique. Bioshock did it too and it did it better in my opinion. I was more immersed in Bioshock then I ever was in Half Life 2 (as much as I love HL2).

And why hate the choices? If you don't like choices don't play RPG's. Simple as that. It seems they have forgotten some of the basic things about certain gaming genres. I loved Dragon Age Origins dialogues that lasted for hours. I wanted to know more about Ferelden and my companions. That kind of dialogue immerses you into the world of the game. And the more I know about it the more real it feels.

Andy of Comix Inc:
I think everyone should get the cartoon avatar treatment, Yahtzee, Bob, and James included. I really freakin' like them. Whoever drew them should get many cookies.

...or just money

Wolfenbarg:
First of all, the thumbnail of Graham with his old FX1 is beyond words in levels of cool. Good on whoever drew that.

That Graham drawing is by the awesome Mike Lunsford, creator of the Supernormal Step webcomic. He also drew the massive Desert Bus for Hope IV poster!

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