Extra Punctuation: Game Stories Demand Focus

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Game Stories Demand Focus

Yahtzee realizes games are best with a tight story.

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What a way to diss From Dust, but I agree with the gameplay elements into the story. I think it's been talked forever, but still, no triple A developer had conveyed this properly, I recall little examples of good storytelling through gameplay alone, and the better the graphics looks, the more anxiety developers get to make spectacular cinematics... It's depressing.
Now I'm more interested than ever in playing the Bastion, gotta kidnap someone with a 360 now.

Experimental:
the better the graphics looks, the more anxiety developers get to make spectacular cinematics...

Is this ACTUALLY true? People have been saying that developers sacrifice story and gameplay for the sake of graphics for years, but I haven't seen any evidence in support of the idea. It just seems to be people going for graphics whores as the easy scapegoat because they happen to be annoying.

For one thing, back in the SNES days games rarely even HAD stories.

It's not what sells games sadly. There really must be some sort of charity dedicated to making good games even if they don't sell.
Also, you mentioned that Borderlands was well written at times but the story could go to pot, so your statement early on that games you consider well written tend to have focused stories is incorrect. Still, all is forgiven because nobody cares about Borderlands anymore.

Talking about a protagonist who's hydrophobic somehow reminds me, of well, Hydrophobia, a game with a protagonist who's hydrophobic. Though apparently it wasn't very well implemented.

Thank you Yatzee, just purchased Bastion. I love me a good story and narrative.
Also I never noticed that the baddie in Prince Of Persia coughed up blood, I need to replay that.

Experimental:
What a way to diss From Dust, but I agree with the gameplay elements into the story. I think it's been talked forever, but still, no triple A developer had conveyed this properly, I recall little examples of good storytelling through gameplay alone, and the better the graphics looks, the more anxiety developers get to make spectacular cinematics... It's depressing.
Now I'm more interested than ever in playing the Bastion, gotta kidnap someone with a 360 now.

It's on steam for prepurchase, it'll be up for download in about an hour.

Gaiacarra:

Experimental:
the better the graphics looks, the more anxiety developers get to make spectacular cinematics...

Is this ACTUALLY true? People have been saying that developers sacrifice story and gameplay for the sake of graphics for years, but I haven't seen any evidence in support of the idea. It just seems to be people going for graphics whores as the easy scapegoat because they happen to be annoying.

For one thing, back in the SNES days games rarely even HAD stories.

No no, he didn't say they sacrifice story, he said they sacrifice gameplay for the opportunity of throwing in big flashy cutscenes. Which, in all honesty, is something I will agree with. I'm tired of cutscenes in games. I realize it's the easiest way to convey exposition and whatnot, but it's just tiring. I've recently been going through some Let's Plays on the Metal Gear Solid series, and I have to say MGS2 probably had more cutscene than gameplay. It eventually got to the point where I was actively skipping the cutscenes in the videos. I wasn't even the one playing the game.

Now I realize MGS is an extreme example; After all, I don't know any other game that would have forty-five minutes of exposition and cutscenes in between gameplay sections. But I don't feel that detracts from the point. With the advent of new graphical capabilities, it seems developers are more and more afraid of incorporating story directly into gameplay and instead separate them into two very different sections that really shouldn't be allowed to mix. Everyone in the games industry always cries out for "innovation". Isn't it about time that we "innovated" how story-telling worked in games? Cutscenes have been done to death. Someone needs to try and change it up.

ShenCS:
your statement early on that games you consider well written tend to have focused stories is incorrect.

You would be right if he had said always, instead of "Tend to"
Pay attention. People tend to pick their words carefully, for fear of others misinterpreting what they mean. People tend to draw conclusions like yours, when they don't read carefully. If there are 1 or 2 games where the story is not, "focused" yet Yahtzee still enjoyed the narrative, that would means he "Tend[s] to" enjoy focused stories.

Gaiacarra:
Is this ACTUALLY true? People have been saying that developers sacrifice story and gameplay for the sake of graphics for years, but I haven't seen any evidence in support of the idea. It just seems to be people going for graphics whores as the easy scapegoat because they happen to be annoying.

For one thing, back in the SNES days games rarely even HAD stories.

Let me just give you a good example of this, take the intro of Metroid Other M, and then watch the final battle in Super Metroid against Mother Brain, watch the scene with the Metroid, and see what's looks more engaging, and consider the Super Metroid was playable right before and right after with no break other than the mentioned.

Cinematics are great, I enjoy to see them, but the way they are used since the PSX era tends to alienate gameplay, having a cinematic scene once or twice is great, but the plot shouldn't be limited to cinematics and using gameplay as an alternate dimension with action and no conection whatsoever to the plot.

Hm. Largely agreed.

...

I wonder how this would apply to Bioware games. They tend to have the whole save-the-galaxy/world/humanity deal going on, but are also populated by small-to-medium size cast of central characters. Although... come to think of it, I often find myself way more interested in the small-scale personal dealings of said characters than the overarching world-saving business.

Huh. Guess he's right. Good show.

badbadsnipey:

ShenCS:
your statement early on that games you consider well written tend to have focused stories is incorrect.

You would be right if he had said always, instead of "Tend to"
Pay attention. People tend to pick their words carefully, for fear of others misinterpreting what they mean. People tend to draw conclusions like yours, when they don't read carefully. If there are 1 or 2 games where the story is not, "focused" yet Yahtzee still enjoyed the narrative, that would means he "Tend[s] to" enjoy focused stories.

After playing The Bastion and realizing how much I'd enjoyed the story aspect, it occurred to me that virtually every game I consider well-written demonstrates good focus in the story department.

Your premise is correct but your evidence is wrong, which ironically, invalidates the rest of your message. If you had just shut up after the first sentence you would have gotten away with it. Weeeeeee!

Wow....time for a system shock flame war!

*Raises flame shield*

In all seriousness, I think SS2 was overcomplicated. It worked fine as a survival-horror game, you didn't need to cram in an upgrade system too.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
Extra Punctuation: Game Stories Demand Focus

Yahtzee realizes games are best with a tight story.

Read Full Article

The "Pokemon school" of writing is the cheap-'n-dirty option. If you think of something you want your story to cover, you simply create a new character that embodies that thing. This keeps up variety, and you can simply devote a lot of "story time" to just introducing this new character. Rinse and repeat. The obvious downsides: you get too many characters to keep track of, the majority of them throw-aways, and all of them are one-dimensional nuggets of allegory.

The other problem a lot of stories run into? Setting = story, or a similarly-flawed belief that the overall concept somehow speaks for itself. We think, "Wouldn't it be cool if such-and-such happened?" And then we think there's suddenly a story. And that story is all about how cool it would be if such-and-such happened.

Take the "end of the world" scenario. A cataclysm nearly destroys the earth. What's the easy story? Getting to the bottom of the cataclysm and reversing it. Just populate with stock characters and a handful of MacGuffins to get the job done (which are the prop equivalent of stock characters, really). Ta-da.

But that doesn't work. The setting doesn't provide a story, it just gives the same old boring story a different wrapping. Unless, of course, you tell a good story within that setting or concept.

In a story like you find in The Bastion, you've got this major global cataclysm as the backdrop... but what's the story? The characters and their interactions. That's it. It's a simple, relatable story featuring a small group of characters with actual dimension. The background adds flavor, and also serves to add gravity to the story -- with all of the world gone to hell around us, the few people left in our lives are all we've got left.

Maybe the story is a boy looking for his dog. Pretty bland stuff. Now let's say the boy is looking for his dog in the aftermath of an alien invasion. Well, that introduces some new obstacles for the boy to overcome, it adds some new flavor, and it raises the stakes from "Found him or didn't" to "Hope rekindled or complete despair, and aliens ate me." But the story? It's still a boy looking for his dog. We haven't said a thing about the aliens, their technology, their motives, nothing. It's all ancillary.

More characters can't carry a story. Fewer characters that have more character can do that. Otherwise, it's like the menu at a Mexican restaurant in the US--there are a hundred different "combinations," but they're all the same four ingredients in slightly different arrangements, so the "variety" is largely an illusion.

A quirky, original concept or setting can't carry a story. It can add some flavor or a different sort of weight to a story, but that's all. Trying to run a whole story on the setting or concept alone is like filling a plate with salt and pepper.

I laughed at the "and no, disobediance of authority and bulging muscles is not a weakness."

I'm reading a book that's just like that.

I seem to remember LEGO Indiana Jones implementing the phobia bit. Like obviously snakes would show up a lot or insects or whatever characters you were forced to use were afraid of, and one of the puzzles you'd have to solve involved figuring out a way to disperse the snakes.

Lately I've been contemplating the notion of a main character with a phobia that's worked into gameplay - e.g. a hydrophobic character who slows to a crawl and loses all stamina when they move through or near water. In that case the player would be all the more invested in helping the character overcome their fear, since it impacts the player's fun, and any later misfortune the character undergoes would invoke the player's sympathies all the more since the two of them have had to work hard together to get to that point.

This brought me back to those scenes from heavy rain when you need to decide whether you help the FBI agent overcome his drug addiction or not. I remember being very invested during these scenes.

Gaiacarra:

Experimental:
the better the graphics looks, the more anxiety developers get to make spectacular cinematics...

Is this ACTUALLY true? People have been saying that developers sacrifice story and gameplay for the sake of graphics for years, but I haven't seen any evidence in support of the idea. It just seems to be people going for graphics whores as the easy scapegoat because they happen to be annoying.

For one thing, back in the SNES days games rarely even HAD stories.

Well, back in the SNES days the graphics (and memory) weren't really good enough to convey story and details to the viewer. But we've gone past the point where that was true and now we are just making everything a touch shinier, which is very, very expensive. Graphics mean that games become harder to make, which increases costs and time, and the likelihood of something breaking. Frankly I think we should all go back to, hmm, Half-life 2 era graphics seems a good point. Lets just stop there, and not improve graphics until something genuinally ground-breaking occurs (move from 2-d to 3-d = ground breaking, more pixels = not groundbreaking.)

I'm impressed. You seemed to have a certain game on your mind while you wrote this, yet you never use the words Effect or Mass.

While there is a charm to the tight story line, that shouldn't be the only focus of games. Epic story lines can and have been done very effectively. Trying to say they're best with this tighter type of story foolish. It's all about how the story is executed. Mass Effect pretty much touches every single point you call out as bad, yet it has one of the best stories in gaming.

For as cutscene-happy as Square Enix is, I really feel the ending of CRISIS CORE pulled off narrative-through-gameplay well.

It was damn BEAUTIFUL, and what really hits it home is that, as the player, it feels like you're in that situation, all because you retain control of your character just as you had in the hours before then, playing through what the game was now forcing on you.

This weeks Extra Punctuation was the one I liked most. Rather than a 'Save the world and everyone in it' doesn't work as well as saving ten people you have known for a while.

If you save the world what does that mean? The status quo is preserved and people you have never met and will never know are able to keep going through their daily lives. This is just my opinion but I would rather have a darker ending where a few of the people you meet are saved.

Whats better? Save the world or save a few friends? Personally which would you choose? I'd rather save a few friends because it would be my choice, not everyones. In a videogame I would place my needs above some vaunted ideals of being a saviour. Take a game with party members or companions, I would put mine and their needs above the needs of multiple faceless people.

His bit about phobias reminded me of MGS2. An ironic example given that the article was largely about story and gameplay being united as one. The section where you have to escort Emma Emerich from her lab to safety, and she can't swim and hates insects, so you have to get her on your shoulders to get through the water, and you have to clear out the bugs before she'll follow you. (or... you know, tranquilise her and carry her body over them without any fuss.)
For all it's waffling on, that game is packed with small details. All of them are.

Gaiacarra:

Experimental:
the better the graphics looks, the more anxiety developers get to make spectacular cinematics...

Is this ACTUALLY true? People have been saying that developers sacrifice story and gameplay for the sake of graphics for years, but I haven't seen any evidence in support of the idea. It just seems to be people going for graphics whores as the easy scapegoat because they happen to be annoying.

For one thing, back in the SNES days games rarely even HAD stories.

I would agree. For all the faults in games' storytelling and writing, there has been a general progression towards the recognition that it helps make them more interesting. Even the CoD writers play with their alphabety-spaghetti until they get some key words for a plot and dialogue.

There's certainly the argument to say that for RPGs, a focus on graphics (and voice acting) a lot of the complexity has been lost (although some developers are going to lengths to correct that; CD Projekt, Eidos Montreal), but for a lot of games I don't think graphics have particularly had an impact.

Ukomba:
I'm impressed. You seemed to have a certain game on your mind while you wrote this, yet you never use the words Effect or Mass.

While there is a charm to the tight story line, that shouldn't be the only focus of games. Epic story lines can and have been done very effectively. Trying to say they're best with this tighter type of story foolish. It's all about how the story is executed. Mass Effect pretty much touches every single point you call out as bad, yet it has one of the best stories in gaming.

That's not a particularly good argument; you're trying to undermine his points on an entirely subjective issue ("you say these things are bad yet my favourite story does all of them and is still great").

I actually had an idea a while ago for handling character flaws in a role-playing game. And since I don't know if I'm likely to ever go about implementing it, here it is:

I envision the protagonist having a major character flaw: say, lust for power, or a tendency to knuckle under to authority, or sadism. The character has opportunities to exercise that flaw- to go with the examples, say, to steal a powerful magic item from an ally who probably needs it more than the protagonist, or obey a questionable order from a superior, or belittle someone in front of an audience they want to respect them. The player can forgo the option to give in to their flaw, but only to a point. There's a meter- possibly hidden- for the pressure the character is under, and that pressure rises each time they don't give in. Eventually, they will give in, possibly at the worst possible time, without it being in the player's control.

However, the longer the player lets the character go without giving in, the more "space" in the meter when it returns to "zero", so the longer they can go without involuntarily breaking in the future (and possibly conversely, if the player "gives in" every chance they get, the meter gets shorter until the flaw becomes an out-and-out addiction.) Eventually, the character might be able to escape their flaw altogether.

Omg stop, you win already, I'm buying it when I get home.

I do indeed agree that the giant epic shenanigans going on can just kind of detract from the adventure your character(s) are going on.

I remember in FFXII, they pretty commonly cut away to important people talking about war stuff and just in general making the main characters seem less and less important. Granted the main characters weren't too great themselves, unless you're into rabbit chicks (and you know you are).

I also agree with another comment I saw that characters are a bit more important than the story sometimes. There could be the most generic, overblown story going on, but the main characters being enjoyable can just make the experience good anyway. I've watched some shows recently that pretty directly correlate with this. One show was pretty much a detective mystery type show, except all the culprits are obvious and the solutions were usually found by magic powers, but the characters were so enjoyable that I kept watching it. This applies a bit more heavily in a game where you are essentially hanging out with these characters the whole time.

With main characters being so important, it becomes even more useful to keep up that focus. You are there to go on an adventure with these people, not constantly cut away for exposition.

Wow I hit some rambling tangents, anywho. Yes focus, yes characters, yes flaws(because complicated characters are more interesting).

I definitely agree with you about the new Doctor Who. I like the series, but it DOES rely on "save the world" storylines way too much. My favorite stories are the ones operating more on a small scale (such as the first episode with the Dalek, the Weeping Angels episode, etc). Yeah, there's danger involved, but it's not going to immediately impact the entire human race.

I pre-ordered Bastion on Sunday - so there.

And I agree with you on every point, Yahtzee. That...is really unusual.

The biggest problem with game stories is they are currently all telling the same exact story with the same exact character: Large bald military/ex military dudebro everyman must shoot machine guns at aliens/terrorists/orcs in a dark industrial/urban/postapocalyptic area for a few hours until a cliff-hanger occurs. That's the only fucking story games are telling. There are no other characters other than the "male grunt man who's the man for the job," and there are no settings other than "war never changes and you've got to get the job done."

Bastion deserves all the love it can get, the game is awesome. Gameplay is actually kinda okay, it's a 3/4 view action rpg, nothing that fancy really... but the aesthetic and storytelling are simply top notch.

Finally someone else who thinks Doctor Who is shit.

Bastion does look like a cool game. I'll probably get on Steam one of these days. I must have a game made by a developer ironically named Supergiant Games. It's like naming a small dog Goliath.

I would really like to see Yahtzee actually review old titles. For example, I'd like to see his review of Sands of Time, Mafia 1, Morrowind etc.

...okay. Y'know what? I think I'm going to be buying Bastion on Steam tonight, or at least sometime this week. Why? For the simple reason that a scene as powerful as the one Yahtzee describes at the end of this EP is something I want to see for myself.

Am I the only one who kept seeing "Half Life 2" in huge blinking letters when he talked about how games with big sweeping stories about the destruction of mankind don't work with a protagonist who was in no way flawed?

TJF588:
For as cutscene-happy as Square Enix is, I really feel the ending of CRISIS CORE pulled off narrative-through-gameplay well.

It was damn BEAUTIFUL, and what really hits it home is that, as the player, it feels like you're in that situation, all because you retain control of your character just as you had in the hours before then, playing through what the game was now forcing on you.

I cried during that scene. I totally did. That was the best ending to any game I have ever played. Bioshock was a close 2nd.

OT: Telling a story is not the same as letting a story tell itself.

Gaiacarra:

Experimental:
the better the graphics looks, the more anxiety developers get to make spectacular cinematics...

...
For one thing, back in the SNES days games rarely even HAD stories.

That is a very very very false, a lot of the games had stories, it was just because of limited space on the cartridge the story wasn't relayed through game play but had to be told through other materials, like the manual, comics, etc. Some of the SNES era games were rich in stories, you just had to dig really deep to get it sometimes.

Damn it, I can't buy Bastion in the foreseeable future, but I want to see that scene to see if it's as good as he said. Anyone knows where to find it? I've been looking on Youtube for half an hour and didn't get anything yet.

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