Interactive Narrative Means Choosing How Invested You Really Want to Be

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Interactive Narrative Means Choosing How Invested You Really Want to Be

Video game narrative has long been on the wrong path by trying to emulate movie storytelling, rather than using methods that play off the strengths of an interactive narrative.

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I can see where he's coming from, but there's also the other side of the argument that cutscenes are a requirement. While some game can get away with having most of the story hidden behind audio logs and journals, most of the ones that can pull it off are either horror games (To best summarize it), or games with an incredibly grand world. In faster-paced titles, this delivery of narrative becomes annoying rather quickly. A brief example is I can think of is Doom 3. When I was playing through that, it felt like a chore for me to go through every journal and listen to every audio log and watch every video. And, while none of that stuff really is "required", it does feel like you're obligated to go through every single one, or you'll miss out on majority of the story's context.

With the new DoOoOoOoM (To continue the joke), while I've yet to play it myself, I have seen a number of people complain that the story is too thin for the game to pull off. One example is that, apparently, one of the bosses later on is suppose to be set up as some sort of traumatic event, but if the reason behind the trauma is hidden behind numerous walls of text, then most of the people are going to miss the point of it.

As someone else pointed out, Wolfenstien: TNO was able to pull off both story and gameplay rather well without having to sacrifice one for the other. However, while I can't back this up as I've yet to play W:TNO as well, I can point to another game that I thought handled the baseline and deeper narrative rather well, F.E.A.R.. Given the game's fast-paced nature, the devs had to make sure the cutscenes (Or what amounted to a cutscene) and character chatter gave enough context without yanking the player out of the experience, but also placed the deeper narrative audio logs and journals sparsely enough and made them brief enough that the player didn't feel like they had to halt the entire game to see the deeper conflicts and reasonings within the story.

There are also those games that would benefit from LESS gameplay. There were a lot of parts in The Walking Dead and The Witcher 3 that made me wish I could stop playing the game so I could get to the next story cutscene, though the "gameplay" in a sense is the choices the player gets to make.

The first Guild Wars did this really well, maybe by nature of being an (Instanced MMO)RPG, you could blaze through the whole campaign by following the main quests and missions, and garner a satisfying RPG experience, but a good chunk of the lore and world-building was hidden away in side-quests and NPC dialogue, which meant that you could spend triple the amount of time in the game to get to the true gems hidden in the world.

The problem with cinematic linear stories is not the story, it's if they sacrifice gameplay in service of the story. You don't have to. Look at something like Bioshock.

Or, you know, there isn't a wrong path, and there's plenty of room for everyone. There should never be one absolute form of gaming that subjugates all others. And it's this tune I've been hearing amongst many game critics that gives me the heebie jeebies. One of only the purest, most gameplay centered titles being approved, and all other forms deserving scorn and being labeled "wrong".

Where was this talk during the age of Silent Hill 2 and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time? Have these games retroactively become terrible now, and undeserved of the praise they received back then?

It's like ever since 2013, when The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite racked in a bunch of accolades for their story, that a certain amount of critics have been getting their panties in a bunch regarding the linear, story driven game. Like it's the leper of the industry now.

Not going to be a big surprise, but I have to agree. Some games work for a few minutes on building up their immersion - they get the lighting nice and moody, the sound design is great, the player's on tenterhooks - and then their view is snapped around to follow a couple of characters as they wander across a room explaining the plot, or to focus on a single person speaking directly the player while everything else is frozen. I don't mind this stuff much when it can be skipped, but surely enough games exist to prove that there are more interesting ways to drip-feed the story to the player without engaging the emergency brakes. The developers who understand this the best, I feel, are the ones who use some of the most subtle cues to draw attention in a particular direction just as a scene is about to play out in real-time. There's always that little chance the player could miss them, but I say why not let those who pay more attention feel rewarded?

I like little codex entries because they give the writers a bit of freedom to flex their creative muscles and write from whatever perspective they like. It doesn't have to be really dull and analytical stuff that reads like something taken from a briefing document.

Sadly, the DOOOOOOOOM map editor is very limited, so you can't even get close to a million demons in there, much less more than a handful at a time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss8SyOhqk1I

At least, not until somebody jailbreaks the thing for PC.

I must take umbrage with your assertion that all gamers are looking for a challenge. Just look at your own triumvirate of challenge, context and catharsis. Different people will have varying levels of interest in these three areas. Personally, I've never been able to stay invested in a game that gives me no reason to be doing whatever it is that I'm doing.

"DOOM has a better narrative than The Last of Us" should be put on Yahtzee's gravestone after he gets murdered by a mob of angry Sony fanboys.

So, what you're saying then, is that we should all buy DOOOOOOOOM, since it sets such a good benchmark for not hitting us over the head with crap we don't care about? Done!

Ehhhhh.. I agree that strings of cutscenes are not the best way to take advantage of games and story-telling, but DS method of shoving everything into item descriptions and NPC dialogue isn't fantastic either. You can't really have a truly impactful moment that way.

Cliche as it probably is at this point, I feel like Undertale is one of the best examples of video game storytelling. It does a great job of delivering information on the plot and characters via that gameplay itself, rather than treating story like the favored son or the red-headed stepchild.

Yahtz continues to try way too hard to discredit The Last of Us, a game he mostly criticized for an ending of dubious interpretation.

Saetha:
Ehhhhh.. I agree that strings of cutscenes are not the best way to take advantage of games and story-telling, but DS method of shoving everything into item descriptions and NPC dialogue isn't fantastic either. You can't really have a truly impactful moment that way.

Cliche as it probably is at this point, I feel like Undertale is one of the best examples of video game storytelling. It does a great job of delivering information on the plot and characters via that gameplay itself, rather than treating story like the favored son or the red-headed stepchild.

Honestly, Dark Souls has a terrible story. Now, what Dark Souls has is excellent atmosphere, and worldbuilding. Great world. Interesting world. Story of the game that you actually experience? Crap. Vague nonsense with barely anything explained, often intentionally so. And every single game in the Souls series has the same thing - nonsensical vague terrible story, great atmosphere and world.

You need only look at the arguing over which Dark Souls 3 ending is the "good" one to see that no one has any idea what happened, it's all guessing because the game doesn't explain a damn thing. Sure you get a rabid community of people spitting theories back and forth but From really just had no idea what they were doing and threw in various fire terminologies and the overanalyzers are SURE there's secret meaning there when there's just nothing.

In every Dark Souls game, you link the fire by killing a bunch of strong bosses to get their souls, and this does something, because otherwise something maybe bad would happen. Or you don't link the fire! And then maybe something good happens. Who knows, the game won't say. That's literally the story in each game.

I think the "choose your own adventure" version of storytelling has its merits, even if it is a totally different form of storytelling than DOOOOOM. Especially in stories that integrate the choice into gameplay, like Deus Ex's pacifist/murderous split.

I was wondering why Yahtzee decided in last year's 'worst of' list to put The Order 1886 above Alone in the Dark Illumination, since pretty much everone else did the opposite, but now I see it's because Illumination had an [terrible] idea and executed it (very poorly), while The Order 1886 had... nothing, it spent way too much time trying to stabilish this universe and did almost nothing with it, no interesting gameplay or a plot worth remembering (yet everybody gave it a pass because it looked pretty).

Well, I think that it'll take a long time for this industry to re-learn what subtle means and until then we're stuck with these games that are play -> stop for cutscene -> resume playing, hopefully the success of Overwatch, Dark Souls III and Doom (2016) will speed up the process.

I seem to be in minority on this opinion, but I think the idea that the player has an inherent investment of any kind in a game is one of the notions that is plaguing the art of games. I have seen so many games that don't give me a reason to care but still try to spout off paragraphs of nonsense or hand me a brick wall of difficulty. Some games even try to do both. In the worst cases I'll even find myself boredly beating what I can only assume someone on the dev team thought was hard because it was intentionally frustrating. Frankly, if the game can't show me that the level design or the writing is competent before my third death or before the thirty min. mark, I don't feel like continuing. And killing off some fictional nobody's family or dog doesn't help.

I never commented on a Yahtzee article but...

How the fuck is READING the story more attune with an interactive medium than a cutscene (that actually can have some interactivity)? I guess books are more like video games than movies.

---

I'm not much a fan of a game telling its story via gameplay because you are focusing on said gameplay and usually trying to not die. Even in Bioshock, I would completely stop playing to listen to each audio diary with full attention. That makes it so games then can't really have much depth to their stories if it's solely being delivered through gameplay because the player is not going to have full attention on said story. And if the story does have depth and is scattered about in little nuggets in item descriptions and whatnot then I could just go read a book with a much better story where I can't miss anything important.

And, nothing is worse than games that let you move around during conversations because it's really not gameplay if all you're doing is walking and looking around. You know what's way better than that is when a conversation is framed properly to get full emotional impact of the scene. What if your character or the NPC does something subtle like winking or shedding a tear that totally makes that scene work? How are you supposed to do that when the player is searching through a drawer for ammo they are already maxed out on?

Lastly, the main thing video games need is better fucking writing. The writing quality in the medium is absolute shit right now.

Phoenixmgs:
How the fuck is READING the story more attune with an interactive medium than a cutscene?

Easy. In cutscenes the player just needs to sit down and watch (they are passive), while reading requires effort (an action). By definition, the interactive medium are not passive; cutscenes are passive, but reading isn't. In conclusion: reading is closer to interactive medium than cutscenes.

Now seriously. Telling the story through gameplay isn't the same as reading notes of exposition or hearing a conversation at mid-battle.

Does this mean that Silent Hill 2 is bad now, Yahtzee?

Maybe there's not a clear right or wrong way to handle things. Maybe it's all just about execution.

Thanatos2k:

Honestly, Dark Souls has a terrible story. Now, what Dark Souls has is excellent atmosphere, and worldbuilding. Great world. Interesting world. Story of the game that you actually experience? Crap. Vague nonsense with barely anything explained, often intentionally so. And every single game in the Souls series has the same thing - nonsensical vague terrible story, great atmosphere and world.

[Snip]

In every Dark Souls game, you link the fire by killing a bunch of strong bosses to get their souls, and this does something, because otherwise something maybe bad would happen. Or you don't link the fire! And then maybe something good happens. Who knows, the game won't say. That's literally the story in each game.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I've currently playing the first one for the first time, but yeah, this is pretty much my impression. Environments are beautifully done and well constructed, interesting backstory, but as for what's going on in the game itself? "There are two bells. Ring them and something will happen" Gee....thanks Mr. Sad Knight man. Want to be less helpful? At least he gives some vague directions before telling you to shut up and go on your way.

Attaching a paragraph of lore to items is a step above audiologs, except for the fact you need to actually go hunt for rare items to actually fill in the lore.

I personally like both types of story, I like hunting for audio logs and journals, but i'll also freely to liking story-driven games like Beyond Two Souls and Heavy Rain, there's just something about them I find really compelling.

Sometimes it doesn't work(I.E. Bioshock Infinite, which really should've been more of a Telltales-esque game rather then a first person shooter).

Fox12:
Does this mean that Silent Hill 2 is bad now, Yahtzee?

Maybe there's not a clear right or wrong way to handle things. Maybe it's all just about execution.

Errr... Silent Hill 2 uses exactly the approach to storytelling that Yahtzee describes actually. You can experience it as just a horror game with puzzles, or you could look at clues more intently and discover more depth about the story. Same as Dark Souls really.

slo:

Fox12:
Does this mean that Silent Hill 2 is bad now, Yahtzee?

Maybe there's not a clear right or wrong way to handle things. Maybe it's all just about execution.

Errr... Silent Hill 2 uses exactly the approach to storytelling that Yahtzee describes actually. You can experience it as just a horror game with puzzles, or you could look at clues more intently and discover more depth about the story. Same as Dark Souls really.

Sure, and that's great. In fact, most of my favorite stories do that. But Silent Hill does make decent use of cutscenes.

And my primary gripe is with people who complain about cutscenes, or heavy dialogue, in a game. I personally prefer the dark souls approach, but that doesn't delegitimize game like The Last of Us, which are quite cutscene heavy. In fact, I thought The Last of Us was one of the absolute best examples of using gameplay to support story in recent memory.

CaitSeith:
Now seriously. Telling the story through gameplay isn't the same as reading notes of exposition or hearing a conversation at mid-battle.

I was mainly responding to this from the article:

But DOOOOOOOM does actually have a detailed story that can be discovered by reading the in-game database, and the profiles of monsters, environments, weapons and what few NPCs exist. All of which contain many snacky world building titbits that could potentially add a greater significance to our hero's actions after he puts his coffee down and gets back in the fight. Which rather brings to mind Dark Souls' trademark style of deep narrative, told through little nuggets in item descriptions and cryptic conversations, while the exploration and combat are all that you see on the surface.

A film-style narrative presents a story as a long sequence of buildup that pays off with little returns along the way and explodes into a climax at the end. It's like a mountain, a broad situation that tapers to a cathartic conclusion at the top. In contrast, the zero-exposition Dark Souls / DOOOOOOOOM style of narrative is, on the surface, all climax.

A filmgoer wants to unwind with a satisfactory story, and time must be spent acquiring their investment by letting them get to know the characters and situations before the climax will satisfy. A gamer, meanwhile, wants a challenge, and they automatically have investment because they want to beat the challenge.

Apparently video games can't use techniques that have been fined tuned over thousands of years but must use some wholly different and extremely flawed way of telling stories. LMAO at Dark Souls story being all climax. Gamers play games to unwind as well. If gamers just want a challenge then we'd all be playing "bullet hell" games like Ikaruga.

The video game medium is unique in that it can use techniques from any other medium along with inventing new interactive ways to enhance the story. For example, having to press "shoot" in MGS3 to kill The Boss is something that adds to the emotional impact of the story while being something only a game can utilize. Why not use tried and true storytelling methods that have been fine-tuned to a near science from other mediums when that method works for that particular scene?

Video games need to be more concerned with getting good stories instead of the how to present said stories because if the story is shit, like 99% of games, then no presentation method is going to make the story good or worth the time whether you're watching the game's cutscenes or reading through item descriptions. Whereas a good story is a good story with or without the best or most proper presentation.

slo:

Fox12:
Does this mean that Silent Hill 2 is bad now, Yahtzee?

Maybe there's not a clear right or wrong way to handle things. Maybe it's all just about execution.

Errr... Silent Hill 2 uses exactly the approach to storytelling that Yahtzee describes actually. You can experience it as just a horror game with puzzles, or you could look at clues more intently and discover more depth about the story. Same as Dark Souls really.

I'e played SH2 and the first Dark Souls and the similarities are skin deep (at best); SH2 has a deep story and uses a number of methods, especially cut scenes, to convey that experience. In fact I desperately wish Dark Souls were more like Silent Hill in many ways.....at least then I'd understand the point of it. (Not a gamer who plays games for challenge; I play for the story/immersion/experience; the only experience I ever felt with DS was frustration, anxiety and annoyance at the game's lack of purpose....but I know that's just me, and it is a good game, just not for my style of play experience).

K12:
"DOOM has a better narrative than The Last of Us" should be put on Yahtzee's gravestone after he gets murdered by a mob of angry Sony fanboys.

You don't have to be a Sonybro or whatever to realize that Yahtzee has a bit of a weird bias here. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the notion that Dooooooom has a better narrative than The Last of Us. The former is...well....a fun experience that I have all but forgotten about after two weeks. The Last of Us however is a game I still think about and like to replay for the experience, and had a significant impact on how I realize I want to experience storytelling in games now and in the future. DOOOM? Fun for a bit but utterly forgettable, and I'd probably stop playing FPSes entirely if they were all like this.

EDIT: I mean, when I finally figured out all the story was loaded in to the archives to be read, I started reading them...and they were fun....but I was at best mildly annoyed at the fact that the game itself is at best pretending it has a story at all. If the story can be masked/hidden, then why the hell bother? If you can't "show" the story or create tools to interact with the story, then sticking it in ready bits is not going to make for an improved experience. Not every game has to do this, of course....DOOM is fine for what it does, but the idea that this might be some hidden holy grail of storytelling approaches is just inane.

Its seems DoomGuy will win a Gaming Aware for Voice Actor in a Leading Role in the future. Without saying a single word. Just using his hands.
I would LOVE to see that happening.

slo:

Fox12:
Does this mean that Silent Hill 2 is bad now, Yahtzee?

Maybe there's not a clear right or wrong way to handle things. Maybe it's all just about execution.

Errr... Silent Hill 2 uses exactly the approach to storytelling that Yahtzee describes actually. You can experience it as just a horror game with puzzles, or you could look at clues more intently and discover more depth about the story. Same as Dark Souls really.

I don't think so. It uses the same methods as those darn cinematic games we have today. In fact, it was one of the pioneers on that front, being the first (or one of the first) to use the voice actors for both the voice work and the mo-cap. You're essentially running from story beat to story beat in that game as well; you can't ignore it and squarely focus on the *cough* fabulous combat and puzzles.

By that fact you can also say that The Last of Us has interactive storytelling you can either invest in or ignore, since there's loads of optional conversations and notes that expand the lore. One of Until Dawn's most prominent features is that finding clues fills in giant story gaps and changes character dialoge.

Casual Shinji:
I don't think so. It uses the same methods as those darn cinematic games we have today. In fact, it was one of the pioneers on that front, being the first (or one of the first) to use the voice actors for both the voice work and the mo-cap. You're essentially running from story beat to story beat in that game as well; you can't ignore it and squarely focus on the *cough* fabulous combat and puzzles.

We must've played different games because cutscenes in Silent Hill don't really tell you anything.

slo:

Casual Shinji:
I don't think so. It uses the same methods as those darn cinematic games we have today. In fact, it was one of the pioneers on that front, being the first (or one of the first) to use the voice actors for both the voice work and the mo-cap. You're essentially running from story beat to story beat in that game as well; you can't ignore it and squarely focus on the *cough* fabulous combat and puzzles.

We must've played different games because cutscenes in Silent Hill don't really tell you anything.

You mean it doesn't tell you you that James is looking for his wife in Silent Hill, but that she's been dead for three years? Or that there's a character named Angela who's looking for her mother? Or Maria who bares a striking resemblance to James' wife? Or Eddie, or Laura? The game's shocking reveal is in a cutscene. Not to mention that final text scroll that goes on for what must be 10 minutes.

I don't know how you'd be able to follow the story without the cutscenes.

Casual Shinji:
You mean it doesn't tell you you that James is looking for his wife in Silent Hill, but that she's been dead for three years? Or that there's a character named Angela who's looking for her mother? Or Maria who bares a striking resemblance to James' wife? Or Eddie, or Laura? The game's shocking reveal is in a cutscene. Not to mention that final text scroll that goes on for what must be 10 minutes.

I don't know how you'd be able to follow the story without the cutscenes.

Does any of it give you clues to what is actually happening and why?

To dismiss any tool of game design as unworhty out of hand is foolish, narrow-minded and short-sighted. To say "this is bad now and therefore will be bad forever" is simply foolish. bad things can improve over time, good things can become worse over time.

slo:

Casual Shinji:
You mean it doesn't tell you you that James is looking for his wife in Silent Hill, but that she's been dead for three years? Or that there's a character named Angela who's looking for her mother? Or Maria who bares a striking resemblance to James' wife? Or Eddie, or Laura? The game's shocking reveal is in a cutscene. Not to mention that final text scroll that goes on for what must be 10 minutes.

I don't know how you'd be able to follow the story without the cutscenes.

Does any of it give you clues to what is actually happening and why?

Define 'what is actually happening and why'. There's plenty of symbolism and clues scattered throughout the in-game world, but without the context of the narrative in the cutscenes these have little to latch onto. You cut out all the cutscenes, both pre rendered and in-game, and the narrative gets completely butchered. For example, without the cutscenes you'd never get an idea as to what kind character Maria is, or really any of the other characters except maybe for James.

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