Story of the Stars

Story of the Stars

Can you tell an effective story in a game that has no campaign mode?

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And the story is "f**k it's the Von Neumann and their eating my defense fleet again. Well I was meaning to upgrade those any ways."

Is it at all possible to get a special tag for articles like this? I know you guys have moved on, but the old magazine way of doing it meant that I could easily pull up all the major articles at once. I would like to be able to do this again. I don't want to miss any.

If this functionality already exists, could someone please let me know how/where to find it? Thanks! :)

Excellent stuff, Mr. Tito. I always enjoy reading about player crafted narratives.

It's strange really, these days I find myself enjoying games like SotS, Europa Universalis 3 and the Total War games a lot more than the carefully crafted (and railroaded) games that we see most of.

The stories I could tell. The things I've seen.

Hell, even a game like Far Cry 2 entertains me more than most games. It gives me the freedom to craft my own narrative. And while I may not be the best at doing that, the stories I make always feel more special to me, as I've experienced them myself.

Great to hear more about SotS. While there's a lot of buzz and news about releases like Skyrim I'm pumped for SotS II, and reading this article re-assures me that it'll be the same great game, and will be "streamlined" but not diluted for mass market.

I must dispute calling Homeworld a 4X game. It's not.
/nitpick.

thenumberthirteen:
Great to hear more about SotS. While there's a lot of buzz and news about releases like Skyrim I'm pumped for SotS II, and reading this article re-assures me that it'll be the same great game, and will be "streamlined" but not
diluted for mass market.

I hear you there mate. This is looking to be awesome

SotS is one of those games I pull up whenever I'm bored with my other games, play exhaustively until I complete a solo player campaign, and then put away for a while. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel.

Story, however, is highly incidental to how I play.

Ooh, playable Reapers.

You know, this sounded really interesting to me until I realized I was just reading a laundry list of sci-fi tropes. You have the proud warrior race, the insect hive mind, the scary dogmatic aliens, and to top it all off there's an ancient mysterious evil race that's been going around enslaving other races since before recorded history. The big twist to that is that the evil race are not just other aliens, they're giant robots in the shape of starships! Gosh, I've never seen THAT before! I don't think I want to play anything this shamelessly rote, emergent storytelling be damned.

For what it's worth, SotS was out a year before ME. Also, if you're not interested in the story, it's almost completely ignorable. The biggest difference between races is what type of stardrive they use.

...yeesh, I'm justifying for a PC game. And I'm usually a console geek.

KingGolem:
You know, this sounded really interesting to me until I realized I was just reading a laundry list of sci-fi tropes. You have the proud warrior race, the insect hive mind, the scary dogmatic aliens, and to top it all off there's an ancient mysterious evil race that's been going around enslaving other races since before recorded history. The big twist to that is that the evil race are not just other aliens, they're giant robots in the shape of starships! Gosh, I've never seen THAT before! I don't think I want to play anything this shamelessly rote, emergent storytelling be damned.

They do a decent job of subverting the tropes, occasionally, but it's kind of subtle. The Liir are more of a hive-mind than the Hivers, because they're telepathic. It's almost impossible to fathom the level of groupthink involved in a society that all know all of each others' thoughts except for a few who are slightly better at hiding them. Frankly, the Liir really, really weird me out. Also, the Zuul remind me of nothing so much as the Magog from Andromeda Ascendent. (if anyone remembers that show...)

Okay, maybe they do fall into the usual tropes. :p
I find it's about as relevant to actual gameplay as the storyline in Sins of a Solar Empire, as someone mentioned before. What's much more interesting in play is the fact that each race encourages a somewhat different style of play... mostly as a result of differing interstellar drives and tech predilections. (Hivers are slow but then drop the hammer; Humans are on rails; Tarka are as subtle as a brick; Liir have fancy tech; Zuul have to keep moving or they collapse; Morrigi go faster in groups...)

LoneGunmanO23:
Ooh, playable Reapers.

Except... they're not giant sentient robot starships. (That's the AI rebellion you can trigger...) They're ... actually giant animals (Hint: they have something to do with the Liir who they enslaved) in space suits because they can't fit reasonably on a planet anymore. They've already gotten a nickname on the forums of "space whales". (Note: that's different from the Liir; they're "space dolphins".)

Honestly, I think the devs only really succeeded at breaking away from classic tropes wherever the Suul'Ka are concerned. Of course, at that point, it gets weird really quickly.

Edit: on further consideration... corrected "Tarka are boring" to "Tarka are as subtle as a brick"

From reading this I'm not sure If I quite get what the game is about. I imagine explaining how a game with no story can have a good story is a bit of challenge though.

When I first started reading the article I was thinking it was going to be something closer to Legend of Mana, Saga Frontier, or some hybrid of the two. But at the end SotS seems more like D20 Future: The game.

The game seems interesting enough though and I'll keep an eye out for SotS2, but this series seems like a poor replacement for a few friends and some dice.

It isn't an RPG, though signs are pointing at SotS2 drifting somewhat thattaway. What it can best be thought of, in my opinion, is as a setting. You've got piles of backstory, from how the humans got to the stars (and why their motto is repensum est canicula, or, 'payback is a bitch') to what makes the Hivers tick, to what's going on behind the scenes that makes the behavior of Tarka ships in battle suddenly make sense -- and even in-universe justification for why those #!c$ing Liir ships can dance around you like you were standing still.

Then you're dropped into this setting and basically handed the reins. You can muck around, testing ship designs and finding the best ways to explore/expand/exterminate. Or you can tell stories, using the supplied framework as your building materials. Or anything in between.

The story of thegame is like a choose-your-own-adventure story, is what I'm saying. And if you want to ignore the story, you can. The only plot is your own.

(I really need to thank Mr. Tito; there's far better T.A.R.s on that forum he could have chosen, I think, but he picked on mine. *preen*)

(Edit: fixed accidental link)

I think I'm part of that group for whom this story-telling method doesn't really work, and I say that as a fan of SotS, who owns it twice (once on CD, one on steam when they sold that complete collection), and will be picking up the sequel. Reading the backstory for SotS, and Homeworld, was very interesting. I like the background of the races. But I do not experience it during normal play. Apart from the drives, all races do the same kind of crap, really. Certainly when you're playing them, and the differences in the AI are marginal.

As much fun as I have had playing the game, the only game that I remember narative-wise was the one where we randomly had a small galaxy with 3 players being Liir and the other human. Because the Liir could all speak each other's language, they forged an alliance almost instantly, and when one researched human language, the humans got an invite and the game ended then and there without any player firing a shot. But I don't remember that for it's epic story, I remember that because it was funny. I've always felt disappointed that none of the backstory really ended up in the game, or translated into gameplay mechanics. Yeah, I guess you can make up your own narrative as if you're doing a Let's play. But that does not happen automatically for a lot of players, myself included.

If they make more tools to better immerse myself into the background of the races in the sequel, and those backgrounds have in-game consequences, I might change my mind. But frankly, I'm betting this isn't just a principled decision about storytelling in games. This is a cost-cutting trick. Writing backstory and putting it in text messages is cheaper than making a story driven campaign, and Keberos assumes (probably correctly) that a missing campaign won't be a dealbreaker for most of their customers. Baring other evidence, I'm assuming this philosophy is just as much marketing bable as Blizzard stating that their customers WANT to be online all the time while playing Diablo III, and any convenience this has for them (lower costs for Keberos, DRM for Blizzard) is of course purely coincidental.

The backstory is there in normal play, just not as a story element. But consider: why do Tarka charge headfirst, over and over again? Why do the Liir dance around you in tactical combat? Why, when you have a Hiver fleet incoming, do you need to make sure you're ready for a brutal fight? All of these are driven from backstory elements.

As for the sequel, I'm expecting more of the same -- which is fine by me, but mileage may vary :D -- though I don't agree with your take that it's a cost-cutting measure. I would argue that it's easier to make a railroad than it is to make the sandbox they currently have. And the transparency they offer into their development process over on their forums suggests a helluva lot of work that wouldn't be necessary if they stuck to one storyline.

There is no real marketing babble, as you put it, because there isn't really a huge market for 4x games to begin with. If you like them, you'll know about it; if you don't, then nothing it has will interest you anyway.

I dunno. I think it's a personal thing. I really like the fact that they don't force me to accept 'their' story; it's the same reason I like RPG setting books but don't really play RPGs. It's like Minecraft; there's no story there except the struggle to build cool stuff and stay alive at night, but people can (and have) injected their own stories into it in epic ways.

Oh, I by no means mean they should throw out the sandbox and replace it with a linear story campaign. I enjoyed the sandbox in SotS, and I have good hopes for the sequel. But I enjoyed it despite my dissapointment that there was no story if you didn't quit the game and went to read the background, I didn't feel this made it better. That may be a matter of personal taste, but the lack of named characters prevented me from seeing my empire, and the enemy's as anything more than blips on my screen. Mount & Blade's sandbox game made it a bit easier for me to make up my story, by virtue of me having an avatar that interacts with other people. This is harder to do in a 4X game with space ships. My (perhaps cynical) view is that this message from Keberos is a response for people who, like me, don't make up stories on the fly about the crew of their ships, and wondered if SotS2 would hand out a bit more story in gameplay, or would have an option to set that. Their answer is no, which is acceptable if disapointing to me. But when they spin their answer that this is a deliberate decision based on what their customers want, and has nothing to do with the fact it takes extra money, time and effort to include more story-telling and they bet they can sell enough copies without including it, I become sceptical.

But perhaps they're right, perhaps I am a minority and most SotS fans adore the game getting out of the way and letting them think up their own story. I can sort of see the appeal. Supreme Commander 2 didn't get any better to me either when the campaign just pilled up the melodrama, and I'd rather be playing Total Annihilation were the story during the campaign was practically non-existant, so it's not like I can't imagine that less-is-more on some occasions. I just doubt that's really the case here.

The problem I find with this way of storytelling is that it requires the player to forget a lot of the conception they've built up around the idea of games. Most people when confronted with a game will break downs ideas in terms of gameplay mechanics and how it benefits them, as opposed to how it fits into the universe. But when those barriers are able to be broken down it creates a fantastic experience, like you described with the very hardcore of your community.

Of late simple platformers have had the most success with getting people to treat them as ideas rather than games. The things Braid did and In The Company of Myself wouldn't have worked if people had carried on thinking of it in terms of game and accompanying narrative, rather than a whole experience

KingGolem:
You know, this sounded really interesting to me until I realized I was just reading a laundry list of sci-fi tropes. You have the proud warrior race, the insect hive mind, the scary dogmatic aliens, and to top it all off there's an ancient mysterious evil race that's been going around enslaving other races since before recorded history. The big twist to that is that the evil race are not just other aliens, they're giant robots in the shape of starships! Gosh, I've never seen THAT before! I don't think I want to play anything this shamelessly rote, emergent storytelling be damned.

It's not a bad thing that they are using tropes, it's if they are using them properly which truly counts. Some shows/comics/games reek of tropes yet come off as good for some reason, I wonder why? Sarcasm aside, I think that SotS 2 has done it decently, not being cliché although the setting is still remarkably similar to everything else in Science Fiction, which in itself is not a horrible thing. Execution is the main issue and I think that SotS 2 hasn't done anything wrong with sticking to what works.

vortalism:
It's not a bad thing that they are using tropes, it's if they are using them properly which truly counts. Some shows/comics/games reek of tropes yet come off as good for some reason, I wonder why? Sarcasm aside, I think that SotS 2 has done it decently, not being cliché although the setting is still remarkably similar to everything else in Science Fiction, which in itself is not a horrible thing. Execution is the main issue and I think that SotS 2 hasn't done anything wrong with sticking to what works.

I know the difference between tropes and cliches. If you'll take note of the part of your post I have bolded, I'd suggest that you have defined cliche, while simultaneously insisting that it is not. I would also vehemently disagree with your assessment that "[it] in itself is not a horrible thing." On the other hand, if you meant gameplay when you spoke of execution, I understand. Excellent gameplay can outweigh a cliched story and setting. Case in point, Fallout 3. But when you have a setting that "is still remarkably similar to everything else in Science Fiction," that's a serious problem. Maybe it doesn't bother you, but I consider it a flaw so deep and jarring that it deserves spite and ridicule.

vortalism:
It's not a bad thing that they are using tropes, it's if they are using them properly which truly counts. Some shows/comics/games reek of tropes yet come off as good for some reason, I wonder why? Sarcasm aside, I think that SotS 2 has done it decently, not being cliché although the setting is still remarkably similar to everything else in Science Fiction, which in itself is not a horrible thing. Execution is the main issue and I think that SotS 2 hasn't done anything wrong with sticking to what works.

I understand the difference between tropes and cliches, and I also understand that you can take some very common tropes and string them together into something worthwhile, see "Skies of Arcadia." However, if you'll take note of the text I have bolded, I would suggest that in trying to defend this game from the accusation of cliche, you have outright defined cliche. Such a problem may not bother you, but I vehemently disagree with your assessment that it's not a horrible thing. Good gameplay can outweigh this flaw, on occasion, see "Fallout 3," but that does not eliminate it. It remains a flaw that I feel deserves spite and ridicule.

KingGolem:

vortalism:
It's not a bad thing that they are using tropes, it's if they are using them properly which truly counts. Some shows/comics/games reek of tropes yet come off as good for some reason, I wonder why? Sarcasm aside, I think that SotS 2 has done it decently, not being cliché although the setting is still remarkably similar to everything else in Science Fiction, which in itself is not a horrible thing. Execution is the main issue and I think that SotS 2 hasn't done anything wrong with sticking to what works.

I understand the difference between tropes and cliches, and I also understand that you can take some very common tropes and string them together into something worthwhile, see "Skies of Arcadia." However, if you'll take note of the text I have bolded, I would suggest that in trying to defend this game from the accusation of cliche, you have outright defined cliche. Such a problem may not bother you, but I vehemently disagree with your assessment that it's not a horrible thing. Good gameplay can outweigh this flaw, on occasion, see "Fallout 3," but that does not eliminate it. It remains a flaw that I feel deserves spite and ridicule.

Sure, I guess when you look at it from that particular angle. They haven't put a lot of effort into making it a very innovative setting and this may hinder people's experience of immersion and engagement. That's why I probably enjoyed The Elder Scrolls so much since it brought me away from all the other fantasy settings which just took Tolkien and ran with it. But The Elder Scrolls tried to be their own Tolkien and the setting really dragged me in. Personally I'm going to be playing this game anyway because I just wanted to see if you can get an effective story without relying on a campaign mode for structure. If you feel that the lack of creativity and inventiveness holds this game back as a particular setting, then I would also have to agree with you on that. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but that's ok with me.

vortalism:

Sure, I guess when you look at it from that particular angle. They haven't put a lot of effort into making it a very innovative setting and this may hinder people's experience of immersion and engagement. That's why I probably enjoyed The Elder Scrolls so much since it brought me away from all the other fantasy settings which just took Tolkien and ran with it. But The Elder Scrolls tried to be their own Tolkien and the setting really dragged me in. Personally I'm going to be playing this game anyway because I just wanted to see if you can get an effective story without relying on a campaign mode for structure. If you feel that the lack of creativity and inventiveness holds this game back as a particular setting, then I would also have to agree with you on that. It doesn't really bring anything new to the table, but that's ok with me.

How embarassing; I thought for sure this glacier-slow forum ate my posts. Now I've got two versions of the same post up.

Anyway, it seems we're generally in agreement now. I can certainly understand why you'd still want to play it, perhaps as an experiment in the medium, but if you do agree that the setting lacks creativity and inventiveness, why did you suggest it wasn't cliched in the first place?

I would really love to craft my own stories in Sword of the Stars II....

To bad it is STILL unplayable after SIX MONTHS!!!!

EDIT: *Looks at post time* The threadromancers are at it again.

 

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