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Games Need More Artfully Story-Entwined Gameplay

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the more-than-just-gibs dept.

Games 145

Movie and Game writer Justin Marks has written an impassioned plea for the industry to concentrate more on artfully story-entwined gameplay, exploring what he thinks major titles are missing these days. "But for the most part, we as an industry are stuck in the same trap that GTA exemplifies. We value narratives in games, we understand their purpose and their necessity, and yet we have no idea how to parse them effectively into the game's interactive structure. As technology gets better, the weaknesses of poor story integration are more exposed."

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How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23638881)

How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories?

Think: Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Grim Fandango.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (2, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23638989)

That's what he's referring to, that the story needs to come from the gameplay. Having a machete out in GTA while on a date should, by all rights, change the way that the date plays out. Cut scenes, etc, just remove us from the game and make the story and the game separate entities. TFA is saying that the two need to be the same thing.

In my opinion, the biggest problem is that there needs to be a reward for staying with the main story. In an open world (I'm thinking morrowing, oblivion, and GTA here), the main story doesn't add significantly to the game play. What benefit do I get from hunting down the heir as opposed to breaking into random dungeons and killing everything there? The storyline typically involves challenges and roadblocks without much reward, making it more satisfying for me and my character building if I just go do my own thing.

In contrast, in playing Might and Magic 6/7, I've found that the main storyline is very rewarding. The characters level faster on the main storyline, they get objects and areas open up that otherwise wouldn't, and the main story's just a lot of fun. Instead of the main storyline pushing me off into the world, the world pushes me to the main storyline. I wish more games would learn to balance the open world with a satisfying campaign.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (3, Funny)

Cruciform (42896) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639623)

Accidentally firing a gun in GTA definitely ruins the date. Michelle got pissed at me, called me a freak, and ran off.

The problem was that I couldn't actually put the damn thing away. For some reason the weapon switch stopped working, and I was walking around on the date with the gun out. I thought it might be a graphical glitch and pressed the fire button, but alas, I unloaded in the middle of the street.

Maybe I should have went to TW@ and ordered some little pills online.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (5, Funny)

dintech (998802) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639779)

but alas, I unloaded in the middle of the street.
This usually ruins most dates.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (1)

Amouth (879122) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640527)

while it has a limited view for interaction - the Hitman and SOF seiries did a great job of this.. make a noise here be see with x there.. it changed the environment - either making things easier or harder.. i agree it didn't change the overall storyline.. but rather jsut how you progressed in it..

but they both did alot better than most of the stuff you see out there today

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (3, Insightful)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642457)

That's what he's referring to, that the story needs to come from the gameplay.... Cut scenes, etc, just remove us from the game and make the story and the game separate entities. TFA is saying that the two need to be the same thing.
I'm not convinced yet that they can be "the same thing" -- after all, physics is very different than textures and artwork. There are, and will always be, different aspects of the game that are not the same thing.

The trick is, weaving the story into the game, rather than making it a completely separate entity. Take Half-Life 2 -- there were no cutscenes, but occasionally you'd be forced to sit around and watch characters interact -- the simple fact that you could still walk around and explore made it that much more immersive.

But I think it goes farther than that, and I've pretty much only seen Valve get it right, though I suspect others have come close: Tell the story without ever stopping the game. Being trapped in a room while Barney, Alyx, and Dr. Kleiner talk to each other is pretty much a cutscene -- it may not stop the gameplay, but it does stop the game.

A good example: The original Half-Life. A few scripted sequences, and a few items left lying around the environment, but after the initial experiment gone wrong, the story was pretty much told within the actual gameplay. I'm talking about things like finding the Houndeye kennels, and the shark tank, thus showing you that this isn't the first time we've seen these aliens. Or the Barney who wanted to tell you something (and was then shot by a ninja). Or the Marines who you think are coming to rescue you, and then they start shooting scientists.

Or the final boss battle -- nobody told you that was a boss battle, and there was pretty much no dialog at that point, but you knew. And the headcrab boss -- just looking at the thing, you understand that this is where headcrabs come from -- again, no dialog.

There are other neat tricks -- in Portal, many of the same things above are used, as well as the constant voice of GlaDOS -- which never really stops you from moving through the game. Narration is fine, but this isn't a cutscene.

There was even some custom Half-Life (1) map which told an interesting story using nothing but the computer in the HUD. Not as developed a plot, but scolding the player for moving through the normal storyline...

Note: All of the above games are pretty much linear. It's not that I don't want games to be on rails. It's that either way, the story can be told without pulling you out of the game. Cutscenes are movies, and Half-Life 2 "cutscenes" are basically 3D movies. Half-Life (original) and Portal are games with actual plots.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (0)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642617)

I'm not convinced yet that they can be "the same thing"...The trick is, weaving the story into the game, rather than making it a completely separate entity
Sorry to nitpick, but if they're no longer separate entities, wouldn't that make them the same entity and, thus, the same thing?

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (1, Offtopic)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639221)

You know, everyone brings up Grim Fandango, but man... have any of you people actually PLAYED it? The premise of the story was neat, but the actual story was mediocre at best. At parts, you felt better off begging a rectal exam from a ungentle robot than pushing through the game. It just wasn't that fun. Now, Monkey Island 1, 2, and especially 3 were great games with a story that kept you wanting to play it. The Dig was another good one. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET GRIM FANDANGO R.I.P.

On a side note, my wife and I, to this day, still say "That's not on fire" :/

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23640231)

"I just locked an open door. Strange, yet symbolically compelling"

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (4, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639279)

Or better yet, think Monkey Island, Kings Quest, or even Planetfall [wikipedia.org] . Adventure games and Interactive Fiction have been around for decades. They pretty much disappeared in the late 90s, and now they're complaining that the game industry doesn't know how to work a good story into a game? They had the expertise, but they squandered it. Sierra was bought and killed. Lucasarts became the Star Wars studio.

It's a real shame, and it bothers me that people are spinning this like a need for a story in a game is a new thing. It's not. The industry dug themselves this hole. If they want to get out of it, they need to go give Ken and Roberta Williams a few millions dollars and bring back the adventure game.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (1)

cp.tar (871488) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639457)

I'd like to add Planescape: Torment to the list.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (2, Interesting)

Cruciform (42896) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639647)

Planescape: Torment was less like a story and more like one of Tolkien's reference books. You could spend 30 minutes at a time going through dialog that fleshed out the game universe but which contributed nothing to the story.

Still, one of the coolest CRPGs ever.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (5, Insightful)

KillerBob (217953) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639621)

Loved the King's Quest and Space Quest games. Liked Police quest as well... but those games were very linear. More recently, there's games like The Longest Journey and its sequel, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and also Advent Rising. There's also the NWN games, and the KOTOR series, just to name a few.

But all of those games have exactly the same problem with them: they're linear. Stories are, by definition, linear (unless you count Choose Your Own Adventure). If you're going to tell a great story through a game, you either limit yourself to one or two possible plotlines/endings, making for a *very* linear game, or you take on the enormous task of plotting out every option in the multiverse that gets determined by every choice you can make in game.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (2, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639845)

Well maybe being linear isn't so bad if it allows one to tell a captivating story. Who cares if you can do anything you want if none of it has a meaningful effect on your character and those around him? Interactivity should be a means to draw the player into the game, not an end in itself. You get him vested in the story, and then tell your story.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (2, Insightful)

KillerBob (217953) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639999)

Indeed. I absolutely loved every game I added to your list, in spite of some very badly designed game engines in two of the cases (Dreamfall, and Advent Rising). They're all games I still play.

Put that into perspective a moment... I still play The Longest Journey. TLJ is a linear storyline, with zero branching at all, and its engine was already dated when it originally came out, in 1999. But the story it tells is so good, and so enthralling, that I can easily overlook those aspects and just enjoy myself.

I'm not faulting storytelling. I'm just saying that you have to sacrifice some elements that gamers have come to expect in order to allow for it.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (4, Insightful)

Anarke_Incarnate (733529) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640049)

the NWN games themselves sucked. The Baldur's Gate predecessors were far more involving from a storyline standpoint. The good thing about NWN, however, was that you could use the engine and build tools to create your own games. I HIGHLY recommend the Adam & Jamie games (No, nothing about Mythbusters)

http://adamandjamie.com/nwn/ [adamandjamie.com]

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (1)

tim_darklighter (822987) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641141)

And any of Stephen Gagne's mods. The Penultima and Elegia series were excellently written and fun to play.
http://www.pixelscapes.com/twoflower/ [pixelscapes.com]

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (1)

Atomm (945911) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641969)

I agree. Baldur's Gate was awesome, but NWN seemed like a let down.

However, if you can get past a few quirks, then The Witcher is one of those great story games. Just remember, it's not the same guy in different clothes. You'll fare a lot better than I did. ;-)

What's wrong with linear (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641073)

A lot of people really enjoyed those "linear" games, and even back then they could have made more branches in the storyline (but in most cases, didn't , except for the rather amusing ways to fail in the sierra "quest") games.

A book is linear. Television shows are generally linear. While dynamic entertainment may add to replace value, having a linear storyline that is *well told* is not a problem, it's just a difference in style.

That being said, it doesn't take too much to add small changes to keep the gamers guessing. For example, Chrono trigger - which was quite a fun game for its time - had the same overall storyline, but there were a few variation your could take (and a few different endings depending on which you use).

Re:What's wrong with linear (2, Interesting)

TheSambassador (1134253) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641457)

The difference between games and TV/books is that they're interactive. If your actions don't change how the story plays out, or if there is only one thing to DO, then you've basically got gameplay that's separate from the story. Sure, the story may make you want to keep playing, but then the gameplay is just a means to watch a movie (and considering how badly some games are voice acted and animated, not a particularly good on).

However, not until games can actually make your actions have actual, non-scripted consequences (or lots and lots and lots of scripted ones), games will have to be linear to tell a decent story. I don't think we have the technology to be able to do that yet (wait for AI).

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641277)

But all of those games have exactly the same problem with them: they're linear.

Half-Life is also linear - but what a journey it makes!

The linear form allows you to build your characters, environments and environments with great care.

You can change the pace - moving from intense physical action through more problem or puzzle oriented scenarios, or moments of comic relief. Side trails can be explored without losing momentum.

The non-linear form will - in time - betray its own illusions. Stage sets and the extras that populate them persist. However artfully disguised, a loop remains a loop.

Characters and missions are resurrected in very thin disguise.

The Matrix might be a fun place to visit, but do you really want to live there?

"History does not repeat itself exactly - but it rhymes." - with apologies to Mark Twain.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (2, Insightful)

cyberon22 (456844) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639833)

There are a lot of us out here. I figure you just support the companies and individuals who make the stuff you like, and try to spread the word about games you think are undervalued.

Also - Tim Schafer is a rock star. I really enjoyed Psychonauts and highly, highly recommend it. Best story-driven game I've played in ages, which is strange since it's technically a platformer.

Re:How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories? (1)

raddan (519638) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639985)

How about less artfully-tortured English?

Please, no more errands to run (3, Insightful)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23638909)

In games like WOW, "missions" devolve into endless errand running. Traveling vast distances to get a blueberry to give to someone who then wants dough, then firewood, then kindling, all to bake a pie that you have to take to Peter Piper.

That's why I quit WOW after a month. Endless running of errands interfered with by getting ganked by maxed out campers.

Re:Please, no more errands to run (1)

SBacks (1286786) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639083)

Then you either need to organize your quests better as to group all the traveling together, or simply skip those quests.

And, if you don't like being ganked, then play on a PvE server.

Re:Please, no more errands to run (4, Insightful)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639615)

Then you either need to organize your quests better as to group all the traveling together, or simply skip those quests.

Because if there's one thing I like doing better with a game than solving a Traveling Salesman problem within it, it's not playing the game at all.

Re:Please, no more errands to run (2, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640241)

Silly, the Traveling Salesman is only the first part of the game.

The second part is the Coupon Collectors Problem [wikipedia.org] . How many mobs with drop rate i must I kill to get set of items A?

Rinse and repeat for the dangling carrots of A1, A2, A3...Ax.

Good comment (5, Interesting)

Moryath (553296) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639335)

Unfortunately, for most games and programming structures, the "fedex quest" mindset is a result of the structure of the programming.

Bethesda are great at trying to avoid this, and they spent a ton of time on it (compare the Morrowind to Oblivion engines, and see the designer commentary on all the work they had to do just to get the "watch a guy hide something" quest early in Morrowind to work right). But they still sometimes fall back on the trap.

The basic problem is, for a quest/story mechanic to work, you need triggers. Somewhere in the game, there's a bit or routine that checks for X, Y, Z completion requirements. "Is X in inventory and talking to Bob selecting Dialog Option 3" make for a really easy set of variables to code for, and then the game flips the bit so that X is removed from inventory. Even quests that are "Go talk to person X" are really fedex quests - you're "carrying" a bit that signifies that you're on the quest and person X is who you need to talk to, thus when you talk to them, the appropriate dialog box (which probably wasn't available before) is opened up... you've just handed in the "plot coupon [tvtropes.org] " as it were.

The better a programmer hides the triggers - making you hide somewhere (in-game) and spy on someone, or specifically avoid encounters to get a really good item or piece of info - the better and more seamless the story will seem. The underlying programming still needs those triggers, though.

My suggestion? Stop buying crappy games like GTA, and go with games where the programmers put some thought into the storyline and making it fit better. The industry could survive just fine with a few less programmers making crappy movie-tie-in games (*coughIronmancough*) and a few more making really GOOD games like Thief or Oblivion.

Re:Good comment (4, Insightful)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639609)

When you boil it right down, Frodo's quest in The Lord of the Rings was a fedex quest. Grendel was a boss, and Gilgamesh was largely an exploration mission after Enkidu died. Heck, the Iliad even had a stealth mission (not counting the horse).

It's all in the presentation -- and WoW really tends to skimp on it. There's a "main quest" for most of the races, and some of the quest chains like Duskwood have real potential to be interesting, but when it's all told entirely in text popups and a few canned emotes, there's something lacking in the dramatic presentation department.

Re:Good comment (2, Informative)

CowTipperGore (1081903) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640465)

It's all in the presentation -- and WoW really tends to skimp on it. There's a "main quest" for most of the races, and some of the quest chains like Duskwood have real potential to be interesting, but when it's all told entirely in text popups and a few canned emotes, there's something lacking in the dramatic presentation department.
All true, but Blizzard squandered the stories even further by not completing them. The Undead story is quite interesting then quickly peters out. The Night Elves suffer nearly the same fate. Gnomes have no story, other than an instance anyone can run in their 30s. The Trolls have nothing but a tiny village in Durotar. The Tauren get a cool starting area then are dumped into the Barrens with everyone else. Humans and Orcs are the only two races with any semblance of a racial storyline because the others were just not developed sufficiently.

You mention Duskwood, and I agree completely. It had a lot of potential and does come off better than some other areas. The Plaguelands were the same way, although the expansion removed 99.9% of the players from both EPL and WPL. OTOH, Dustwallow Marsh had most quest lines abruptly end, NPCs without any purpose, and huge areas with no reason to exist. The original zone developer had many great ideas, including PvP quests, but left Blizzard right around the original release. Blizzard simply implemented the zone half completed and left it for years.

I tend to agree with another poster regarding the inherent trade off - much story usually means extremely linear game play. The large world offered by WoW means that I have lots of flexibility in how, when, and where I level a toon, but it is difficult to tell me a story. I get a detailed story from many of the WWII shooters but have no options to deviate from the predetermined path. KOTOR was perhaps the best mix that I've played in years.

Re:Good comment (1)

nuzak (959558) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640867)

Yeah, I forgot to mention the incompleteness. I started with a night elf, and was waiting for Crown of the Earth to go somewhere, but it never did. They might get their chance if they ever introduce the Emerald Dream (it would make sense to have to go into the Emerald Dream to fix Teldrassil's corruption), but my guess is it'll just be a few instances for Level 80 characters with bosses that wipe your group if you don't execute with millisecond precision.

I should mention, I don't have any problem with using text to tell the story. Planescape Torment is told mostly in text, but actually has mostly complete stories to tell (most characters have incomplete resolutions to their stories, but that's kind of the point. It seems only Dak'kon is able to really move on and come to terms with his failure before the ending).

Re:Good comment (1)

confu2000 (245635) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640661)

This is a good observation. I've long felt that Final Fantasy XI had the best story presentation of any MMO (at least up to and including WoW). But my problem with FFXI was that it was so hard to get in a position to see the story.

The grind to get your level high enough to be allowed to see the epic cutscenes eventually made me jump ship.

In contrast, it's pretty easy to see most of WoW's story. Storywise, my opinion is that it's a little less dramatic, but still entertaining to see. But most of the time, I was wishing they'd be a little more cinematic about it.

Re:Good comment (2, Funny)

drsquare (530038) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641031)

When you boil it right down, Frodo's quest in The Lord of the Rings was a fedex quest.
And most of that was pages and pages of walking up and down: just like most MMOs.

Re:Good comment (2, Insightful)

HiVizDiver (640486) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641605)

Well, you can distill it right down even further (and I promise I'm not trying to be funny), but life itself is basically an endless series of Fedex quests. You are, in general, tasked with doing a series of things that someone else can't/won't do, that's what you get paid for. Even things you DON'T get paid for, like taking the kids to/from school, etc. The trick with games is, the programming/hardware/A.I. hasn't gotten powerful enough yet to mimic all the subtleties of a "real life" that make our everyday routines not SEEM like Fedex quests.

Re:Good comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23642103)

I agree that's a little weird. I mean, there isn't exactly so much quest text that it would be prohibitive for a billion dollar a year product to hire voice actors to at least speak everything.

Re:Good comment (1)

Clovis42 (1229086) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640503)

I can't see the difference between GTA and Oblivion as far as quests go, except that completing the quests is more fun in GTA. Oblivion really blows you away at first, and does a good job of having a lot of quests at a time. However, they are almost all fetch quests. When the game does get creative it almost never works right. You mention the spy missions. Did you notice that you can literally walk up to your "target" and then simply duck behind the nearest crate? Not too impressive. GTA has follow missions too, but you fail if you get too close.

Oblivion also holds your hand through the game to a ridiculous level. The game mostly involves walking from one highlighted map point to another, and then listening to someone talk. I guess if you took the very best 20 missions from Oblivion it would look impressive, but those are mixed in with like a billion simple missions. The game was fun though ;-)

Re:Good comment (3, Insightful)

Rui del-Negro (531098) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640971)

Bethesda are great at trying to avoid this
While they might be great at trying, they suck at actually achieving it.

Oblivion and Morrowind feel dead, like worlds populated by robots, all saying exactly the same sentences (how hard would it have been to change the sentences slighty for each of the different voices...??) and all doing the same 3 or 4 meaningless actions over and over again.

Then there are the hundreds of scripting bugs and inconsistencies (Oblivion was never actually play-tested before release - extensive playtesting is what made Half-Life great), a nonsensical game world (shared by NWN), where random crates and barrels spread all over the game world each contain half a dozen gold coins (sometimes with a beggar sitting right by the crate - why doesn't he grab the coins, and why are the crates and coins there anyway?), monsters that drop random objects (in Oblivion sometimes a wolf will drop a gold coin or a fork - WTF?), and so on. Baldur's Gate, despite a more consistent and interesting story, has an even more static world (NPCs standing on the exact same spot 24/7, etc.).

It's really depressing that games made so recently, by huge teams, with several gigabytes of art and code, are so far behind a game like Ultima VII, in terms of immersion and game world consistency. You made more use of your brain just navigating the dialogues in Ultima VII than playing through Oblivion ("follow the arrow, click here, kill that monster, repeat"). The only bearable part of Oblivion was the Thieves' Guild quest line; the rest is just a good-looking (but clearly rushed) hack'n'slash game completely ruined by a bad story, bad scripting, and designed for 8-year-old Xbox players.

Valve needs to bring toghether the people who made Ultima VII and System Shock 2 and show the industry what a real RPG / free-form adventure / world simulator looks like.

Re:Good comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23641403)

I found GTA3 and Vice city to be fun games, sorry you didn't like them. They might not have been great stories, but a great story isn't a requirement of a fun game.

My suggestion? If you want a great story, read a book.

Re:Please, no more errands to run (1)

skeeto (1138903) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642401)

That's why you should play a game like Progress Quest [progressquest.com] . You can level your character without clicking your mouse.

it's an interesting idea (5, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#23638973)

A lot of games will give you a long narrative about how important something is, how it must be achieved stealthily, how you need to go in, get something and get out again or spin a complex tail around which you play your mission.

then it finishes and you turn to your buddy and say "so it's 'wade in and kill everything' like last time then?"

OTOH, i like 'wade in and kill everything'. 'wade in and kill everything' is great.

Um... TFA forgot something... (1)

Millennium (2451) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639029)

All this talk of artfully story-entwined gameplay, yet no mention of Okami? Fail.

Re:Um... TFA forgot something... (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639637)

I love Okami. I really, really love Okami.

But when I think Okami, I think art. I don't think story-entwined gameplay... remember the opening sequence? The opening sequence in which you had to passively wait and press a button every so often for a half hour before anything interactive happens? If not that, how about the minigames and the collection goals? How do those advance the story?

No; when it comes to story-entwined gameplay, I think Half-Life 2.

Re:Um... TFA forgot something... (1)

himurabattousai (985656) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640013)

And that opening sequence was the weakest part of the game; fortunately, you only need to go through it once.

The minigames and collection goals, for the most part, do advance the story. There's the obvious "I can't continue until I do this" part of it, but the minigames and collection goals also serve to make the world of Okami more complete. I've played the game through five times now, and each time, I notice a little bit more how the gameplay is inseparable from the mythology of the story.

There are exceptions: finding all one hundred stray beads is a mindless quest that rewards looking up strategy guides on the internet. But, searching the country for the Satomi Warriors fills out the story and makes beating Crimson Helm more important than just "here's a boss to fight." If that doesn't qualify as story-entwined gameplay, then what does?

Re:Um... TFA forgot something... (1)

Jellybob (597204) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640369)

This may sound like an odd choice, but I think one of the best story-entwined games I've seen recently has been Call of Duty 4.

Sure, there wasn't a lot of storyline going on beyond "there's a bad guy trying to take over this country... sort him out", but since it was largely following two infantry grunts, that's ok by me. You're average Marine probably doesn't get much more information then you got in the game. "Go here, protect this tank until it can be fixed". "You're helicopter just got shot down." etc.

Maybe we need to stop making games that ask you to save the world single handed, and start to look much more deeply at the situation that you as a player are dealing with right now.

The other thing I'd like to see is less pre-written dialogue for your character. My favourite games are the ones where I'm not forced to sit around while my character says a load of crap I'd never even consider saying in that situation. Let me develop my character, rather then filling in all the blanks for me.

I have high hopes for Fallout 3, although at the same time I'm worried it's going to be another game where I can do whatever I want, so long as I don't care about it making no difference to the world.

Re:Um... TFA forgot something... (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640625)

I'm going to turn into a grammar nazi for a moment.

"Your" average machine, "your" helicopter. You wouldn't say "you are helicopter just got shot down", right?

Okay, done. Sorry 'bout that.

Getting more to the topic... you're right ("you are right" -- the apostrophe makes sense there) that CoD4 doesn't necessarily need a lot of story, but I'm not sure that that makes it a "story-entwined game". Some games just don't need backstory -- chess is a perfect example. Would you call chess a "story-entwined game" because it has just the right amount of backstory? I think that'd be silly -- it has no story, it needs no story, but just because it has exactly the amount of story it needs isn't to say that it's story-entwined.

Of course, it's really in line with the article's point that technology makes it possible to make the story so implicit that it's accepted as part of the scenery; CoD can be argued to have plenty of story implicit in the art and media bundled into the game itself, and I'm fine with that. Even so, I don't think that puts it up there with Half Life 2 and its ilk (which have carefully and deliberately written story as a centerpiece of their existence, exposed without taking control away from the player or otherwise compromising the interactivity or believability of the experience)

Re:Um... TFA forgot something... (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641071)

I don't remember the story of Okami, or how it relates to the gameplay, being anything special.

Re:Um... TFA forgot something... (1)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641659)

That's because large segments of the slashdot community act as if Nipponese games don't even exist. I'm always interested to see how long it takes for Nipponese gaming to be brought up anytime american game makers start scratching their heads over narrative pitfalls in modern videogaming.

See, the Nipponese don't have the same problems with narrative that US game makers have. They may have their own pitfalls, but I think there's much more acceptance of a creator expressing themselves through the game. Many westerners are highly intimidated by this. The US could gain a lot by learning from Nipponese game makers. I think Nipponese game makers are a lot freer to impose their own artistic visions than Americans are. American game makers are discouraged to impose their own vissions because there's a feeling that they are then taking over the game experience from the audience. But really, isn't that the job of a narrative creator? To be the architect, emotional guide, God, and to express their ideas?

Okami isn't probably the perfect example either. Don't get me wrong, Okami is one of my very favorite games, and has a pretty strong narrative, especially writing and dialog. However, what elevates Okami, specifically, above almost all other games is its art style (and I think that is very important to the overarching feel of the game) but it's different than narrative. You want great writing? Tales of the Abyss offers some really wonderful inter-character dialog. You want great story telling (from a non-litterary perspective)? Ico and Shadow of the Colossus offer intensely personal experiences with hardly any language.

We Need Better Characters First (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639049)

Most videogame characters are so one-dimensional it's not funny. Assuming you even find characters with speaking roles, they're almost always cliches. Add onto that the fact that voice acting is generally sub par and it's awfully hard to see anything close to an artful story.

Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines had some of the best writing and voice acting to ever hit the video games. Unfortunately, the game itself was obviously rushed (The developer went bankrupt right afterwards, sadly) and left with a largely non-existent set of choices to decided to somewhat disappointing outcome of the story.

Two words: Planescape: Torment (1)

EWAdams (953502) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639479)


Definitely not Oscar-caliber, but some of the richest, most nuanced characters ever seen in a video game.

It CAN be done.

Re:We Need Better Characters First (2, Insightful)

vertinox (846076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639709)

Most videogame characters are so one-dimensional it's not funny

Eh. I think the best argument against this is Portal. You the player... Are mute, uknown, and have no backstory.

In fact the only identifiable character throughout the entire game is GladOS (which I suppose counts as a character), the gun droids, and the unseen other player leaving clues about the situation. Oh and the companion cube could count as a character...

But anyways... Portal's story wasn't about the character. You hardly really knew much about what was going on which was one of the major points of the plot line and made the story interesting as it gave you subtle clues to what really was going on.

Re:We Need Better Characters First (1)

multi-flavor-geek (586005) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639835)

VTMB kicked ass! I really wish there were more games out there like this one. I actually have the model for Jeanette on my MySpace friends list (ok, hitting freaky geek status), as for VTMB has anyone else noticed that Jack really resembles Al Jourgeson from Ministry in person?

Re:We Need Better Characters First (1)

sesshomaru (173381) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639987)

My favorite character? Stanley Gimble! Sure, he was only human, but when I first met him I thought, "There's a straight shooter with upper management written all over him!"

Re:We Need Better Characters First (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640007)

Erin Layne? She seemed like an interesting character all on her own. :P

I thought that all of the Belle Morte posters found around town were a nice touch. I was pretty good acquaintances with them back in the day. I wasn't good friends with the band by any stretch, but would hang out with them whenever they were playing nearby.

I think the one major mistake that was made with the game was the lack of mod support. You'd think it would have been easier to include with it being built on the Source Engine, but I guess it wasn't since the engine itself was still undergoing developments during the production of Bloodlines. It's really too bad, as that would have made sure the game lived on forever with fresh content. Outside of the Unofficial Patch, there really isn't much happening for Bloodlines.

Vampire the Masquerade - Redemption, while not as fun of a game, had an overall better story I think. The one cool thing about it however was the Storyteller mode for multiplayer. Couple something like that, along with proper mod support, onto a game like Bloodlines and I'd never have to purchase another title again. Maybe an overall World of Darkness game would be the way to go next time? Start out as a mortal and then end up becoming a vampire/mage/werewolf through decisions made early in the game. *shrugs*

Re:We Need Better Characters First (1)

vortoxin (213064) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640025)

This would of course depend on the genre of the game. (Capt obvious comment)
But in games like Sims where my character progression is the story, be it how banal or dramatic it may range. Simply playing the character is the story.

Where as an FPS, to take from Slayer, the final swing is not a drill its how many people I can kill. There's a story?

Yet even in games or other story containing media, the story and characters are perceived in different ways. Look at Harry potter and Snape. Snape is supposed to be the main character's antagonist, yet most people love Snape as a character more than any other, even though Harry hates him. That perception of character is not something you can force. Be it if a story is linear or force fed.

Re:We Need Better Characters First (2, Insightful)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641795)

True, however be carefull about putting cliches down. Many wonderful characters have been created out of architypes and cliches. Most everyone you will meet in the world falls into one of about 5 different character architypes. Really, what's lacking is SUBTLETY in characters, not originality.

The very best, most memorable characters throughout history, are ones that are built off of traditional architypes, but which the creators then used to mould a very complex persona. Games that strive for completely ORIGINAL character personalities usually lack subtlety and elloquance. Think about it, most of the greatest litterary minds of all times create very simple stories with relatively architypical characters, but then spend all their time on really making those characters come to life in ways that really make us think and feel.

Hamlet, at his core, is simply just another angsty broken young man like a thousand others that have appearned in litterature, film, and games... but through him, Shakespear makes us think and feel about our world and our lives, and about his life, more vividly than hardly any other. Game makers could learn a lot from the great bard.

Story is the opposite of game (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23639089)

> As technology gets better, the weaknesses of poor story integration are more exposed.

How about: This is because story is the opposite of game. Attempts to intertwine the two are doomed to fail.

How else? (1)

Thyamine (531612) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639107)

People are going to gripe about it regardless of what developers come up with. Other mediums follow the narrative pattern: songs, TV, movies, books. They all tell us the story, and we are passive for the most part, simply going where they take us.

Games are different of course since we are in the story and interacting with the environment, but how else are they going to introduce the storyline? The narratives help us from having to go into every single building (where is that guy?) or reading every book in a library (lets research that backstory I need to know!) or trying 100 experiments in game (damn, too much sulfur that time) to push the story forward. Some games do it in a more interesting way, but it seems like we need it regardless.

Call me old fashioned.... (3, Interesting)

SGDarkKnight (253157) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639157)

I still think the best story lines were in the classics for the PC such as the Kings Quest (except for the last one, too cartoony for my taste), Space Quest, Police Quest, hell even Leisure suit Larry had a half decent story line. In all those series, the only down fall was that the story line was linear, once you past a specific point, you couldn't go back, so if you missed a key component in the game, then you might have to go back to a save point and look for the missing item; but the story lines were great, Kings Quest and Space Quest being my favorites. One game that came out a few years later had a great story line (with Live Actors -- Mark Hamil was in it!) -- thats right, it was Wing Commander. The choices you made in the game affected how the sotry line turned out. As of late, I havn't seen too many games that had sotry lines like that which still incorporate a fairly good problem solving skills. Today it seems its mostly run here, run back there, then go back to the start, then do it all over again. I will admit, Half-Life 1/2/EP1/EP2 (and hopefully EP3) will continue with their story lines, I find them to be a good FPS with a nice story line and graphics to boot.

Re:Call me old fashioned.... (1)

cduffy (652) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639685)

In all those series, the only down fall was that the story line was linear, once you past a specific point, you couldn't go back, so if you missed a key component in the game, then you might have to go back to a save point and look for the missing item
FYI, modern interactive fiction largely doesn't have this problem unless they're actually trying to be unforgiving; Varicella is an example of the unforgiving sort among modern IF, but it's excusable there because the game is meant to be replayed from the beginning until one can puzzle out how to get it right; in a great many other cases, however, being able to get stuck in an unwinnable state is considered a bug, and generally doesn't happen.

Re:Call me old fashioned.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23640095)

methinks you've missed king's quest 8: mask of eternity (which i didn't think was very good, but it definitely was not cartoony)

Re:Call me old fashioned.... (1)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641839)

And what's wrong with a game being linear anyway? All other narrative mediums since the beginning of time have been linear and have achieved breathtaking results. What makes makes games so inferior that they "can't work" with linearity? Some of the greatest games of all time are incredibly linear, and couldn't have been so great had they not been.

Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (4, Interesting)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639219)

It's hard enough for a human game master to keep up with his players' creativity and keep the story flowing. To truly integrate good story with open ended game play is hard. I'm not saying it will require true AI, but it will require rethinking the way stories are written.

The key, I believe, is to write generic stories, and fill in the blanks with details generated during game play. For instance, instead of specifying a specific location where a scene takes place, specify what type of location and other elements necessary to trigger the scene, then when the players meet the criteria, the scene is triggered with the specific details coming from the environment, not the author.

Same goes for characters, write them generically, and use appropriate game-generated character that meet the plot criteria instead of saying it has to be a certain person.

As for plot, multi branching plot structures aren't really that hard, people have been doing it since the 50s in romance novels. The big publishers had a flowchart outlining the accepted plot possibilities and stables full of mediocre writers to fill in the details.

The key is in understanding dramatic tension. You raise tension by posing meaningful questions and you lower it by answering them. In some sense, it doesn't matter what the questions are or how they are answered, only that they are meaningful to the reader. By using game generated specifics to ask the questions, and player choices to answer them, it becomes more likely the player will find the questions meaningful.

So in a basic sense, one can look at a plot element as consisting of entry conditions, scene, props, characters, questions, and exit conditions. You specify what has to be true for the element to become active, what types of scene, characters and props are involved, what questions are asked, and what the possible outcomes are.

But this is much harder than simply dictating what will happen in a story. And it guarantees that every player is going to miss some content. No writer likes to think they are writing something that might not even get read, but for dynamic stories to work, that is what has to happen.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (1)

Irish_Samurai (224931) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639535)

You could basically take the Monomyth as the framework, create some "object oriented" interactions corresponding to the various available environments and bake.

The trick is not to have the "object oriented" methods just be pixel and name swaps. Make the actual elements unique in not only surface presentation, but also in gameplay mechanics.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (3, Interesting)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639729)

The monomyth, as appropriate for RPGs and as universal as it is, is only one (Daring Enterprise) basic dramatic situation, of which there are thirty six [wikipedia.org] .

If the game play mechanics are open ended enough, and the elements contain enough individualized characteristics, and there are enough connections between elements, then the elements will be unique. For instance, the author specifies 'big dumb fighter' as a necessary character for a scene in a tavern. The game searches through instantiated characters for one meeting the criteria, and it turns out that not only has the player interacted with a 'big dumb fighter' before, the fighter has a brother who is commander of the watch. This was not specified by the author, it just happens to be true in this particular instance of the game. Suddenly, the upcoming bar fight becomes a lot more interesting.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (1)

KookyMan (850095) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640229)

I think VALVe is on the right track here. They already have good story lines (Half-Life Series), and now with the acquisition of the studio developing "Left 4 Dead", they are going to have an effective "AI" for controlling the gameplay elements. (Look for information on the "Game Director." The Game Director AI is going to handle all the placement and spawning of the enemies in the game, based on the current situation. Once you have an AI that can effectively do this, you can start adapt the software to create a Story Director and when you combine the two, you have the next generation of game.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23641477)

The problem is not that it is hard. The problem is that it is expensive. 1) Publishers don't like paying for content that people don't see. 2) "branching" plot lines or other "dynamic" plot structures require more content. More content == more cost. If games make money without such elements there is no incentive to add these elements.

I loved the idea in school. Now I make games and understand that market pressures prevent any large scale effort of this type.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (1)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641949)

I understand you completely, but I'm also appalled at this perspective, because it removes almost all of the human element from the creation of the plot. Great works of art/entertainment stem from the connection and interplay between creator and audience. What you are suggesting is an almost systematic removal of the creator from this paradigm. This is dangerous, IMO. Have humans become so incapable of empathy that we prefer to interact with purely mathmatical formule? I sure hope not. And I don't believe we do. That's why I think that a definitive human creator will always play a large roll in the emotional engagement of a video game, and why I'm not so opposed to linear gameplay.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (1)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642311)

I think your interpretation is incorrect. The creator is still intimately connected to the plot. There is no mathematical formula. The creator simply creates on a higher level. Rather than specifying the details, the creator is free to specify the meaning, the theme, the pace, and the types of dramatic questions posed. The game does the boring work of filling in the details based on the previous experiences of the players.

Some creators want to dictate to their audience the exact nature of the experience. Other creators are happier co-creating the experience with audience participation. The strength of video games lies in that audience participation. Video games are not simply another form of story telling, they are a form of story making.

I see linear game play is an attempt by creators, fundamentally uncomfortable with the loss of control inherent in the new media, to shoehorn old story telling conventions into a new form. Creators want to be Gods, not mere guides. But the future of video games is most certainly closer to the art of improv than it is to the art of writing.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (2, Interesting)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642771)

The game does the boring work of filling in the details based on the previous experiences of the players.
Boring work? The details are where the ART is, in anything. That's where the creator gets to express themselves, and where they audience gets to connect with the creator. The details are what makes a work of narrative: human.

I see linear game play is an attempt by creators, fundamentally uncomfortable with the loss of control inherent in the new media, to shoehorn old story telling conventions into a new form.
Actually, I see non-linear game play as a form marketted to an audience of people who are so uncomfortable with human interaction, with such fragile egos that they are unable to cope with the traditional creator/audience relationship.

But the future of video games is most certainly closer to the art of improv than it is to the art of writing.
As a jazz musician and audience member, I think this couldn't be farther from the truth. Improvisation may turn over responsibility from composer to performer (to a varying degree), but there is still a very clear separation between audience and creator... it's just that the primary role of "creator" has shifted from composer to performer.

I think a closer analogy to improv is the roll of GM in a table-top RPG. In that case, a human is able to be present and interact with players. Offline videogames are incapable of having direct human action between players and creator. Therefor, they are really no different from any other narrative art form, except that the audience is able to move through the creator's world in any manner they see fit.

Call me old fashioned, but I want to feel the creator in any work I participate in. I want to know what they think and feel, I use narrative as a way of connecting with people who I think may have some pretty interesting things to say intellectually and emotionally. Games have this power like any other art form. I feel that what you are suggesting severs the very connection that I find the most fascinating about narrative.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (1)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642929)

No, what I am suggesting broadens the realm of possibility of creation, allowing new forms of creativity, participation and interaction. It allows a creator to be more like a game master in a table top RPG than like a mere writer of linear plots. It gives the creator and audience the ability to explore many different possibilities, not just one.

In some sense, in a video game, the player is the performer and the author is the composer.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (1)

Das Modell (969371) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642817)

I see linear game play is an attempt by creators, fundamentally uncomfortable with the loss of control inherent in the new media, to shoehorn old story telling conventions into a new form. Creators want to be Gods, not mere guides. But the future of video games is most certainly closer to the art of improv than it is to the art of writing.

There's still so much more that could be done through traditional methods of storytelling, like those found in adventure games. The technology and talent are there for a truly exceptional game, but nobody has yet managed to bring them all together. As a medium, games have several advantages over film and literature, such as dialogue choices. In Mass Effect there's a pretty impressive amount of dialogue you can have with people, even with very minor characters. There's also a staggering amount of background information and detail in the game which you can read or ignore as you see fit. In a film there are time and pacing constraints, but a game naturally moves at your pace and without a time limit, allowing you to investigate people, objects and places as much or as little as you want to.

There's so much potential there, but it seems we've already moved on.

Re:Nice idea, but the devil is in the details (1)

spun (1352) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642993)

That is the beauty of video games as an art form. Not only can they recreate and re-express all other forms of media, they can do things no other form of media has done. TV never killed movies, which didn't kill radio, which didn't stop writing. New forms of narrative in video games won't ever kill off the older forms. People are still making interactive text adventures, you know.

Oh please (5, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639237)

If I wanted artful stories, I'd read a book. All I want to do is chainsaw zombies, preferably on a Wii.

Re:Oh please (1)

the phantom (107624) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641965)

If that is your response, then it is clear that you didn't read the article (surprise, surprise -- this is Slashdot, after all). The point of the article was that there are a lot of games out there where the claim is that there is a great story, but that you can skip the story without altering the gameplay experience. Thus, the story doesn't add to gameplay, and may actually detract from it. His argument was that if a game is to have a story, then that story should be more tightly integrated into gameplay, so that it is not distracting or irrelevant.

Games need more... Gameplay (4, Insightful)

EricR86 (1144023) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639277)

Title fixed.

Seriously, I'm all up for well told stories in a game, but when it interferes with the game and game mechanics it has the potential to make the gameplay seriously suffer. And if the story is only so-so, then the entire game sucks that much more (and why have the story in the first place?)

If you have a story to tell that needs to be told interactively, a game is a great medium to do it in. If you have a story to tell where the audience is supposed to mainly watch and listen, make a movie. If you have an indepth story with deep characters, a huge plotline, where no interaction is really necessary - write a novel. And if you have NONE of the above, reconsider what you're making story-wise. Your medium is your message after all.

There really seems to be some sort of confusion about what medium a story should be told in.

Re:Games need more... Gameplay (1)

Das Modell (969371) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641741)

If you have a story to tell that needs to be told interactively, a game is a great medium to do it in. If you have a story to tell where the audience is supposed to mainly watch and listen, make a movie. If you have an indepth story with deep characters, a huge plotline, where no interaction is really necessary - write a novel. And if you have NONE of the above, reconsider what you're making story-wise. Your medium is your message after all.

Even if you're making a game that doesn't have a lot of interaction, like an adventure game, the medium still has advantages that books and movies do not. You can have multiple dialogue choices that allow you to gain as much or as little information as you want, your player character can comment on objects and environmental details, and you can wander around freely at your own pace and decide what you want to do (within limits). Grim Fandango is a good example.

"We, as an industry," (2, Insightful)

SetupWeasel (54062) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639341)

Yes, they, as an industry, might value narrative and believe it is necessary, but I'm not so sure we, as the players, are all that sold on it. Sure, you have your die hard JRPG fans darting from cutscene to cutscene, but I think most of us playing a game like to write our own stories.

Most gamers like to talk about what they did in the game. Narrative fucks that up to some extent, and is nearly always at odds with the player's goals for the game thereby breaking the illusion they hope to set up.

Re:"We, as an industry," (2, Insightful)

Zelos (1050172) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639505)

I think that was kind of the point of the article. If you mention narrative to gamers they generally think of cutscenes, but cutscenes are separate from the game so you end up with this split between "doing stuff" and the story.

A better approach is to mix the two together such that what you do in game *is* the story.

Re:"We, as an industry," (1)

Clovis42 (1229086) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640743)

I enjoy writing my own story too. I almost always have a complicated history of my country running in my head while playing Civ, or any other strategy game. However, the I think the game that has the best "story" is the Sims. You really can't play the game if you are not willing to create the story, and the game doesn't really offer any story at all. The game does facilitate all kinds of stories happening though. It also allows the player to force the story to be exactly how they want, or to let the game mechanics create plotlines for you.

Coverage of GTAIV has mentioned that it allows the player to create their own story too, even though there's actually a main storyline in the way.

Mario (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639393)

When I'm playing Mario and having fun, I don't think the game suffers from a) the most racist video game character ever (Mama Mia!) b) really wacked out plot lines (star bits? lumas? ray surfing? bee suits?). It's just fun.

And that's what video games need to be. If they have a great interactive story, so be it.

What games need, Obviously (2, Funny)

Alzheimers (467217) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639409)

It's pretty obvious to anyone with a Playstation 3 what games need:

More Cutscenes. [joystiq.com]

A little would go a long way. (2, Insightful)

sherriw (794536) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639531)

I would be easy for games to start small in this direction. If you even take very linear story driven games like the HalfLife series, you could still throw in more game driven narrative. Suppose, you have a tendency to throw things at Alex (a female NPC who joins you for some of the game), she should become less friendly because you're being 'a jerk' to her. Or if you fail to keep the enemies away from her, maybe she should become too injured or shaken-up to be much help for the next little while.

Even games like Zelda where you get a visual of time passing (day and night) and weather make a big difference. In HL, I can stand outside for ever and the sun never moves in the sky. Wasting time crow-bar-ing boxes should mean... oh crap, now I have to fight the zombies in the dark!

In GTA, you can be the biggest crime boss/bad-ass but the NPCs never react differently to you (I haven't played the more recent GTA games, if this has changed). If I have a rocket launcher in my hands, or a reputation for evil... the NPC should react to me- flee, faint, turn away, refuse to serve me, etc.

Little things like this would go a long way.

Non Issue (2, Insightful)

DreadPiratePizz (803402) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639541)

I don't think this is a problem. Story doesn't have to be entwined with gameplay at all.

As a developer, what do you want to do with a game? If your first and foremost goal is to tell a story, then do just that. Use cutscenes or other non interactive elements. Use interactive elements. Use whatever. If it best tells your story, do it. It's a fallacy to think that the story must be interactive. Interactive story presentations and non interactive ones both have strengths and weaknesses. A game that really wants to tell a story will not be afraid to use both where appropriate.

All games should be written for me and no-one else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23639701)

Forcing a complex narrative into games that don't need it (see: Mario, any racing game, most multiplayer-focused shooters, etc.) is silly. So is saying that no games that should have any narrative whatsoever.

Isn't it obvious that there exists a market for games that do have in-depth stories? Lots of people buy and enjoy dialog-heavy games with shoddy gameplay. Furthermore, can we agree that the games being made to meet this demand have a long way to go? Isn't it rational to conclude that this is, therefore, a subject worth discussing? Just because you skip every cutscene doesn't mean no-one is enjoying them. (The ability to skip them is a huge plus no matter what you like in a game, though.)

But this being Slashdot, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by the "I don't like games like that, so nobody should care, EVER" responses.

No they don't (4, Funny)

Cathoderoytube (1088737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639739)

Why would game developers bother with any sort of meaningful or halfway decent stories? Their core audience believes Naruto is masterful storytelling, and they've never read a book in their entire lives. With an audience like that you just need to give them the ability to call people noobs during gameplay, and they're happy as pigs in shit. Just look at the whole Halo series.

BioShock (0, Offtopic)

Khuffie (818093) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639777)

I'm surprised no one mentioned BioShock yet.

I'm not so sure. (1)

Cillian (1003268) | more than 6 years ago | (#23639891)

I'm not quite so sure about this. Take gears of war - that kicked arse in most people's opinions, yet the story was pretty much confined to the narrative bits and rather separate from any of the action/gameplay. And then there's the unreal tournament series, which not everybody likes, but the story in those games is a joke. The whole point in those games is blowing people's heads off, not relating to your character's struggles to come to terms with his personality.

Movies cost $7 (2, Interesting)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640429)

Here's the thing: a movie or a book (a story) costs $7. If you make the story the center of the game, the game is worth $7.

For it to be worth $50, you have to give me something I want to play over and over again. Story is a nice accent for a game, but keep it in its proper place. Put the game play first and make sure that when the game play conflicts with the story it's the story that loses.

The other thing is this: as a brilliant software architect, you are neither a brilliant writer nor a brilliant producer. Play it smart: play to your strengths.

Re:Movies cost $7 (1)

TheSambassador (1134253) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641935)

Here's the thing: a movie or a book (a story) costs $7. If you make the story the center of the game, the game is worth $7.
Um... aren't you forgetting that there are other things in the game that might make the game worth more than $7? Bioshock was very story-centric, yet it was worth MUCH more than $7, and I'm actually quite happy with my $50 that I spent on it.

Games need more game play (2, Insightful)

kellyb9 (954229) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640535)

Maybe, I like these games for their nostalgic value, Mario, Punch-Out, etc, but they did happen to hit the nail on the head. They did't have elaborate stories with 20 minute cut scenes, and if I played them today, I'd still find them highly enjoyable (infact I sometimes do). Regardless, what I want as gamer is more gameplay and less stories. Especially less cut scenes.

Deus Ex (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23640551)

First comment ever on Slashdot, and I'm posting as an AC. Oh well...

What the industry needs are more visionaries like Warren Spector of DX fame. That game had a perfect, well-woven narrative. I have completed it countless times - and yet I still keep coming back because there's so much depth to the game world to flesh out the basic story. There's always something you've forgotten since the last time you played through the game.

I've never seen another game of quite the same calibre - i'd choose it over HL or System Shock any day of the week.

Here's hoping Deus Ex 3 lives up to the original game...

Narrative Vs Emerging Gameplay (2, Insightful)

Phrogman (80473) | more than 6 years ago | (#23640553)

What the original article and many people seem to be discussing mostly here is Narrative gameplay - where a storyline is created and more or less followed by the player one step at a time. It may be branching so that decisions made by the player - or failure to achieve specific goals - result in different outcomes, but at its core its still a railroad. You still follow one of the paths chosen by the developer who wrote the storyline in the end

Emerging Gameplay is where the game sets conditions and possible actions, but leaves the path up to the player, and what happens emerges from the results of those actions. Most people don't see this as a "storyline" per se, but really what your character does becomes their story in the end. This style of game design is immensely complex to implement but is the only one that will result in truly dynamic and evolving gameplay. In most modern MMOs, the character is free to do whatever they want (subject to level restrictions for access to a zone etc) and thats all emerging gameplay, but when they take a quest or a mission, its essentially a mini-narrative in a lot of cases (say City of Heroes/Villains). As such the quests all start to look alike pretty quickly.

Narrative gameplay will always be limited by the time and imagination of the developer/level designer/whatever and thus players will always be able to burn through the content pretty quickly, certainly far far faster than it can be developed

Emerging gameplay has more potential. If a game could be developed with sufficient AI on the part of the NPC characters in the game such that they react to the conditions of the world, then we can see the potential for Emerging gameplay come into its own. If for instance in some fantasy world, kiling off all the mobs around a town made it easier for the NPC Bandit King to invade and conquer the town, and the AI for that entity was sufficient for it to recognize the condiditions under which that would be an advantageous action, then player actions collectively might result in a change to the game environment, even if its the unintentional result of many players individually hunting the mobs around that town because the pelts are worth selling. If each NPC could be imbued with defining characteristics to their character then perhaps the timid Bandit King might act less aggressively than the Driven Bandit King and killing the latter off might result in the former inheriting and not being able to keep control of the village etc. Then the quest to free the town is open to whichever group discovers the problem and decides they must fight their way to the Bandit Camp and defeat the leader there to break his hold on the bandits and thus their hold on the town etc. None of this would be scripted, it would all emerge from the conditions and characteristics inherent in the game design. This would happen when the conditions made it the viable choice for the NPCs involved. Beefing up the guard at the township might mean the whole bandit camp moves to some other area entirely etc.

Thats what the next generation of MMOs needs to offer - or at least treat as their Holy Grail I think.

Re:Narrative Vs Emerging Gameplay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23641251)

> Thats what the next generation of MMOs needs to offer - or at least treat as their Holy Grail I think.

I see your "adaptive bandit AI," and I raise it my level 70 sword of bandit village razing.

Won't work in a mass-market MMOG. (Because the actions of a few strong players can always completely negate anything you do in AI.)

It might work in a smaller market, moderated MORPG. (Where the same is true, but via player filtering and "encouraging" powergamers to play WoW instead, you can significantly decrease the likelyhood of it occurring.)

Borrow from Literature (1)

Clovis42 (1229086) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641021)

I don't know about you, but I'm always reading a book or something and thinking, "Man, I wish they'd make a game about this!" I was just thinking that the other day while I was reading Finnegans Wake. This game could be the perfect combination of gameplay and narrative, since neither would make the slightest bit of sense. Every character could be made of of 5 different people, and spell their names 10 different ways. Instead of an inventory, all your items would be combined, all the time. Instead of a save system, it'd just load up a random spot in the game. Your every move would completely change the game world in everything in it. Or maybe it just changes constantly on it's own. Who knows? You wouldn't be able to tell if you are navigating a dialogue tree, or are actually speaking to one. Are those monsters you are smiting with a bicycle pump, or your own self-concious desire to be a pudding? Yes! And, of course, you'd know you've won the game when you get back to the beginning...

Developers produce what they can sell (1)

Wreckdom (1263852) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641193)

There are plenty of games with excellent story (Mass Effect, Bioshock, etc) and plenty that just focus on gameplay, as many gamers dont enjoy heavy story elements in their games and would rather chainsaw a room full of zombies without delay. Game companies will make what sells so as you story lovers buy up things like Mass Effect the market will respond by producing more titles like it in the future. SO if there is really a market for this artful story entwinement stuff, it will be provided.

What do stories have to do with games? (1)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641249)

I simply don't get it. Games form an interactive medium. The story is what should emerge as a result of you playing the game, not be some ingredient that's stuffed in at the outset. Modern high-profile games are awful, not because of a presence or lack of a story, but because game companies keep selling us the same gameplay over and over again.

The Japanese have it down... (3, Interesting)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23641371)

Not perfect, but they've got a much better direction than the US.

Here's how I would describe it: The US is OBSESSED with unique complex plots with twists and turns everywhere, cliches are completely taboo. However, the storytelling is dry and purposefully attempts to extingish the idea of a creator. It's very post-modern in that respect, games really attempting to put the world into the hands of the player, and not give any emotional opportunity for the artist.

Japan, on the flipside, has no problem with a distinct separation of powers between creator and audience. Games are played from a more traditional artistic/entertainment standpoing: there is a creator who shares his/her thoughts and stories with an audience that genuinely engaged with them. Japenese storytelling may relly very heavily on architypes and cliches, but the details are all very original, with the creator's individuality coming through very strongly.

I truly feel that the USs post-modernist approach to game storytelling (ie: GTA, Mass Effect, Oblivion, ect.) will be shortlived and is doomed to inevitable extiction, for the same reason folks don't sit around the camp fire and listen to John Cage. This is a phase we're going through due to our current socio-political climate and fascination with the gadgetry of a new medium. It's sort of like the German expressionist film period. Eventually people will settle into video games being just another narrative medium like any other, with a distinct separation of powers between creator and audience. Obviously games will always provide a little more interaction than other mediums, but eventually that will be relegated to things like time frame (when and how you chose to interact with the story), and not in the actual creation of a story itself.

Most of the pleasure of a plot comes from not knowing what's going on, learning about the characters involved, and exploring the world that the creators have created for you. Something is very lost when the creator says things, "you create the characeters as you see fit", and "you create the structure as you see fit". and "the plot is yours to make". The enjoyment of LEARNING about the game-world is subtley but inexpicably lost.

This is a wholey american phinominon that is little more than a decade-or-so long passing phase. I think GTA IV or GTA V will see this come to a close. Things like Bioshock will probably be closer to what we'll see in the future, with set paths but subtle choices along the way.

Re:The Japanese have it down... (1)

Colonel Korn (1258968) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642535)

Japanese games are the worst offenders in terms of the issues brought up in TFA. In general, they have a series of long, non-interactive cut scenes connected by relatively unrelated gameplay.

Look to a game like Half Life 2 or Portal to see strong storytelling blended with gameplay in the way that TFA suggests.

Re:The Japanese have it down... (2, Insightful)

7Prime (871679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23642941)

Try Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. Not a single cut scene in Ico, very few in SoC, two of the most powerful games ever made, both Japanese... and there are more examples like them. I think you're knowledge of Japanese games is extremely limited. I found that Portal had more in common with Japanese games than american ones, actually.

Ya know, I'm gonna start hatin' on films because they include music and drama. They aren't "pure", we should go back to silent films. It's just like video games that may include include bits of the *gasp* "cinematic medium" in the mix in order for the creators to express themselves. God forbid we combine media in varying degrees.

Seriously, all of these are different story telling devices. The fact that Portal is able to let you still move your character around while GladOS is talking is stupendously superficial. Portal isn't unique in the slightest in its narrative strategy, it's very similar to many games both American and foreign. What made it wonderful is that the content of the narrative was well written. People seem to point to Portal as some kind of breakthrough in a new style of narrative, when it's really no different from the kinds of things game develoeprs have been doing for decades... it's just better at it. I, personally, don't mind putting down the controller for a few bits of time here and there in order to hear what the creator(s) have to say. I love Metal Gear Solid, even though it has lots of cut scenes, because its narrative is (commonly) fairly strong and I love to hear what is being talked about... sure it gets a little pretentious here and there, but for the most part, it's wonderfully done.

Tex Murphy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23641877)

The Tex Murphy games did it best -- great stories and alternate plotlines. I remember playing "Overseer" with a friend. We had just watched a cutscene of a supporting character getting killed -- wow, that's cold. We mentioned to my friend's dad, who was also playing the game, that we had just reached that point of the game. "What do you mean?," he asked. "Didn't you go back to Arizona and tell him to hide?" Having only been used to games where "alternate plotlines" meant "two endings, depending solely on the last line of dialog you choose" (e.g. The Dig, Harvester), we were blown away at the realization that significant changes were happening throughout the game.
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