In response to “Your Job Is to Fall In Love” from The Escapist Forum: This topic seems to be determined to fight its way to the forefront of my mind on a regular basis, and it always makes me contemplative of where I am, and where I want to go. Without diving too deep, I keep finding myself divided between the two sects–the childish sheer ebullient fun of what I would, could, should be doing, versus the devastating moroseness of the facts that have to continuously come to term to get anything at all accomplished in this very unimaginative culture.
Did anyone else actually send a “cyclops list” to the e-mail listed on the article or was I the only one actually moved to do something somewhat silly by the article?
Anyhow, much agreed. This whole idea of love is… well, it’s simple but we make it complex don’t we? This definitely reminds me of a passage in a book entitled Possession in which the characters begin to talk about something very close to love and then start to talk about it in terms of how intellectualized it is and they say something like “we know everything about love, but we just don’t know love at all.” Sometimes intellectualization just gets in between yourself and the passion that ought to be spent on a project. Anyhow, sorry, that’s terribly off topic.
it’s still not “deep” in any meaningful way
I never said they were “deep”. And “deep” is a horrible term to use, it has no real meaning of its own. If you specifically mean narrative depth, of course they are lacking – my point is that these were the first immersive game experiences for most people.
What most people overlook about Half-Life (and Portal) is the fact that any game could have told that story, but it’s the sense of immersion that enables it to be conveyed on the level that it is. A word tells you what’s there, a cut scene shows it, but interaction allows you to gather the meaning intuitively. Compared to playing Pac-Man, SMB was a very “deep” experience and compared to SMB, Doom was phenomenally “deep” – for the first time you could walk around a room and explore it for yourself, discovering keys and secret passages. Once Half-Life came out and the exploration of that space was being used to convey a compelling story, Doom and everything before it naturally became obsolete.
Story telling is an incredibly difficult art; in an interactive medium that job becomes a thousand times harder. Many designers believe you should “funnel” the player to plot-specific moments (i.e. the Metal Gear series; many many FPS that try to emulate Half-life). But because you are creating a living breathing world; you should allow people to discover it for themselves, this is something valve does wonderfully.
Take the Left 4 Dead games. At each saferoom, you see the scribbles of the survivors before you. You see their anger, confusion, and fear of the apocalypse. You walk around to a supposed safe zone in a mall only to find a pile of corpses that touch the ceiling. You move to a motel room and find ammo laying next to the carcass of someone. It’s not an infected, but you can tell she took her own life before being torn by the horde or face being turned into one of them. This style has also been used by games like Fallout 3 (checking out the ransacked and obliterated wasteland), the Grand Theft Auto games (with the many easter eggs to be found), and the first F.E.A.R (Alma’s appearances and copying the computer drives).
This is the style of storytelling that should be adopted by designers. Let the player slowly unravel their world. Don’t just give us a heap of cutscenes that are either written poorly or drag on forever.
In response to “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” from The Escapist Forum: I will disagree with this article, in that you can’t say “a computer game does this, so all computer games does it”. Just like movies, books, jokes and all other forms of human storytelling, diffrent games have diffrent goals. Counter-Strike is arguably a game of external storylines, what matters isn’t if Seal Team Six disarms the bomb on De_Dust or not, what matters is that you have fun while playing it (and can gloat at your friends because they run into your headshots).
Think about what Heavy Rain promises, a game that explores how far you are willing to go to save those you love. I fully agree with Mr. Cage when he says that computer games should grow up. Games as a medium is a potentially powerful tool for directed storytelling. However, most games today end up on the same level of meaning as your average Wesley Snipes movie. You get some cool action and one-liners, but beyond the tesosterone and adrenaline there isn’t much to collect there. There’s no message, no moral dilemmas to explore or discourses on human psychology.
Does anyone remember Mafia? That game showed us, in part, how games can tell a story with a message and make the player involved. Is there anyone who played that game that didn’t feel a sting of sorrow as Tommy’s crimes eventually catches up with him? Was there anyone who missed the message that “Crime doesn’t pay”?
The two examples above are games that tries to push the storytelling in games. There are many who doesn’t, just as there are hundreds of TV-series’ out there that only aim at delivering quick entertainment. Games are a powerful medium, and I think it would be silly to dismiss their potential to one day be just as good narrative devices as books or movies just because they haven’t gotten there yet or that they have more uses than that.
I think the writer misses a really important point here: that Citizen Kane is not the greatest film ever made because it has the greatest story, but because it practically invented modern cinema as we know it. As the previous poster says, the story is told through the language of its own medium – a language which modern cinema takes for granted, but which didn’t really exist before Citizen Kane.
I would argue that gaming has had plenty of ‘Citizen Kane moments’, where single games have broken new ground in the language of video game storytelling. Half Life and Half Life 2 are brilliant examples of how videogames can tell stories without using words; the history of the places you visit in both games are revealed simply by exploration, and the fact that the main character never speaks throughout the whole series is telling. Grand Theft Auto 3 showed us how you can tell a compelling story in a sandbox without losing focus. Play any Bioware RPG and tell me they haven’t figured out how to create emotionally compelling characters in our stories. Not forgetting The Sims, any Civilisation or Total War game or even Animal Crossing, all of which give the player a framework to create their own stories (even if most of the stories turn out to be very very similar).
The ‘language’ of videogames isn’t even confined to storytelling, and there have been plenty of Citizen Kane moments in other areas. Halo replaced health packs with regenerating shields and turned that into the default behaviour for first-person shooters. The toolbar at the bottom of the screen with spells corresponding to the numbered keys on a keyboard is part of the language of CRPGs now, but someone had to invent it. The idea that interactive objects in an RPG would glow in some way was, arguably, an accidental invention, but has nonetheless become part of the language.
There have been lots and lots of games that have advanced the art of videogames in a similar way to how Citizen Kane advanced film-making. There will never be a single Citizen Kane because games are too diverse, and what works in one genre would make no sense in another.
Oh, and game developers have no control over the pace or ‘flow’ of their games? Have you played Left 4 Dead? I think you do a disservice to the many talented developers out there by suggesting that a game can’t manipulate a player’s emotions in the way a film can. Play a Silent Hill game, or Alien vs Predator without being utterly terrified at some point, or Left 4 Dead without feeling any sense of urgency. Anyway you get point. Hopefully.
In response to “Finding Meaning in Modern Warfare” from The Escapist Forum: “Can you still make the story work?” His reply? “No! But I’ll figure it out.”
THIS is exactly why the stories in FPS are so mind-blowingly disjointed, yet some still manage to show glimpses of absolute brilliance. Seriously, they need to bear the writer’s opinion first, by all means!
I don’t like storytelling in games… at their heart, videogames are still *games* which really makes a mess of my suspension of disbelief.
For example, I walk Nathan Drake along the edge of some crumbling wall to grab a shiny artifact I can see a short distance away. In a butter-fingers moment, he goes flying off the edge and dies. Half an hour later, he’s in a dialogue scene where a villain’s got a gun pointed at his head. Now what’s crumbling is my suspension of disbelief. Nate can take a dozen gunshots before dying, and even if he dies he gets to try again and again until he wins… so what’s the deal with letting this situation set him back? It’s inconsistent. *My* Nathan Drake would just turn around and unload the usual truckload of whoop-ass, sweep the girl off her feet, toss all the ancient treasures in a sack and fly away into the sunset right then and there; but NOOOO in “the story” he’s got to act like this generic goon with a crappy handgun is some kind of threat. It’s the same for the enemies: what the hell is up with taking Nathan *hostage*? He’s deadlier than ebola!
That’s why I like abstract games (shmups e.g.) and simulations. That sort of game doesn’t give a damn if you win or lose… there’s no narrative that’s pre-determined on your progress and success, so failure isn’t a total disruption of your immersion in the game.
Is Logan a new face at The Escapist, or just on video? Hope to see more of him about, and not just to add a few more non-American accents to the mix. Mad props for admitting you look forward to the day that a game makes you cry – I’m in the same boat. The end of Half-Life II: Episode II made my tear up a little, but I look forward to crying like a bitch when someone makes a story that good.
Strange that Russ is all “Story? Pshaw, unnecessary!” Being an editor, I’d assumed he’d appreciate the story.
I remember, back in my day, cutscenes were a reward, so again I’m on the same page as Logan. You’d work hard to get to a certain point and you’d get rewarded with an awesome cutscene. And you know what you’d do right after? Call your friends or go into school the next day and tell them all about it.
“And then the bad guy like waved his arms like THIS and BWOOSH he totally summoned lightning from nowhere and threw it but the good guy was like GODS PROTECT ME and made this little move with his fingers and the lightning TOTALLY FLEW BACK AT THE BAD GUY IT WAS AWESOME.”