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Storytelling In Games and the Use of Narration

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the first-game-to-use-morgan-freeman-will-make-a-mint dept.

Classic Games (Games) 131

MarkN writes "The use of story in video games has come a long way, from being shoehorned into a manual written for a completed game to being told through expensive half-hour cut scenes that put gameplay on hold. To me, the interesting thing about story in games is how it relates the player to the game; in communicating their goals, motivating them to continue, and representing their role as a character in the world. This article talks about some of the storytelling techniques games have employed, and in particular the different styles of narration that have been used to directly communicate information about a story, and how that affects the player's relation to their character and the degree of freedom they're given to shape the story themselves."

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Welcome back. (1, Informative)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872465)

Welcome back to Slashdot. ;)

Re:Welcome back. (1)

Lunoria (1496339) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872475)

It's good to be back. Maybe we should read the articles so slashdot doesn't die again.

Re:Welcome back. (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872541)

Welcome back to Slashdot. ;)

Glad to see somebody was quick on the "universal fixit button".

Re:Welcome back. (1)

Anenome (1250374) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872579)

Wait, did we just 'slashdot' Slashdot?

Re:Welcome back. (2, Funny)

N3Roaster (888781) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872859)

Well what did they expect, trying to host it on an Amiga?

Re:Welcome back. (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874585)

Could be worse. They could have hosted in on a Vista machine. An Amiga 4000 with 800 megahertz PowerPC is still faster than that. (ducking and running)

It doesn't really matter... (-1, Offtopic)

prehistoricman5 (1539099) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872471)

...unless the sharks have fucking lasers

Ultima II, Karateka and Questron! (2, Interesting)

Phizzle (1109923) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872487)

I still remember the first games with "cut scenes" - Ultima II the grand finale, Karateka and Questron on Commodore 64. Questron was the most elaborate one - the celebration parade at the end of the game was epic, almost StarWars like. I remember to this day how it blew my mind.

P.S. Welcome back Slashdot
Not sure what this was about but it didnt sound healthy:
Error 503 Service Unavailable

Service Unavailable
Guru Meditation:

XID: 275099066

Re:Ultima II, Karateka and Questron! (1)

Hecatonchires (231908) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872797)

I miss my Amiga ;_;

Re:Ultima II, Karateka and Questron! (1)

Flentil (765056) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875491)

I agree about Questron. At the time it was the most satisfying game ending I'd ever seen, and still ranks up there with some of the best. But as a general rule I don't like cutscenes mixed into my games, and the latest fad of gamestopping quicktime events is truly obnoxious.

Freemanic Paracusia (3, Funny)

psicop (229507) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872513)

Re:Freemanic Paracusia (4, Funny)

Sensible Clod (771142) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872683)

My favorite style of narration involves phrases like "What you say!!" and "You have no chance to survive make your time".

For great justice.

Re:Freemanic Paracusia (1)

nitroscen (811508) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876237)

Two words: Roger Wilco

Re:Freemanic Paracusia (1)

JohnnyBGod (1088549) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875355)

How does Gordon Freeman have a comforting voice if he never talks?

Re:Freemanic Paracusia (1)

Julien Brub (727173) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876001)

It's Gordon Freeman, and we never actually hear it's voice... but anything that can help discover xkcd is good!

Re:Freemanic Paracusia (1)

Theoboley (1226542) | more than 5 years ago | (#27877005)

lol i read that as Morgan Freeman...

Yes, I RTFA (5, Insightful)

hezekiah957 (1219288) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872515)

Many games spread out their chunks of story like breadcrumbs for the player to follow, in between somewhat repetitive sessions of gameplay; the continuation of the story serves almost as a reward for getting through more of the game.

When I read this, all I could think was "Assassin's Creed". Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the game and are eagerly the release of its sequel, but it was ridiculously repetitive.

Re:Yes, I RTFA (1)

Bangmaker (1420175) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872695)

I had a nearly opposite reaction to Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Why would I want to watch a two minute cutscene when I could be riping apart more stormtroopers? Althought by the end the game was pretty old, even the worst gameplay was by far better than the cutscenes.

Re:Yes, I RTFA (2, Insightful)

montyzooooma (853414) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874039)

Some games require story, RPGs in particular. Most other games I just want to PLAY THE GAME. If I want a story I'll read a book or watch a movie. 99% of in game story-telling is a waste of my time, and so uninspired it's an insult not a reward. Unskippable cut-scenes are a crime which should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

Re:Yes, I RTFA (5, Insightful)

mcvos (645701) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874369)

Cut scenes don't belong in RPGs either. They should tell the story through the game rather than tacking it on for passive consumption.

Games are not a passive medium. You need to get players involved in the story, rather than making them a passive audience to a crappy movie.

Cut scenes need to die.

Re:Yes, I RTFA (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874687)

You mean like the classic Pirates game? There's not much story there, but the outcomes such as whether you court a beautiful daughter and retire as a governor, or end-up single and penniless, are determined by how much success you see in your treasure-hunting and ship-to-ship battles.

Re:Yes, I RTFA (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876383)

I totally disagree. Warcraft II had great cut scenes (that you could skip), that lead to total immersion in the Warcraft world. Without those, there would have never been a World of Warcraft. I wish WoW would have cut scenes interspersed through the game, if not just for nostalgia. I feel much more disconnected from the WoW environment than I ever did in Blizzards other games, because you only learn about the world what you discover on quests. Given most buildings and quests are kind of repetitive in WoW, there's no back story to make them more interesting. Instead, you get a million little mini-story lines on some of the quest chains, that are easily forgotten shortly after you complete the chain.

Re:Yes, I RTFA (1)

Perky_Goth (594327) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876515)

Just because you don't like it, doesn't mean a lot of us also don't like it. In fact, I really like it at times.

Re:Yes, I RTFA (2, Interesting)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874657)

You hit the nail on the head. For games like Final Fantasy, Parasite Eve, or Eternal Darkness (gamecube), the story is the reason you play. It's like an interactive movie. But for games like shooters, the story is often so lame and pathetic you just want to get back to the game.

And oftentimes the game itself is lame too. I miss the 80s and early 90s when games had to be good to hold your attention - graphics were too poor to serve as a substitute, so the play was the thing that mattered the most.

Basically I'm looking for personality in my games, not shallow T&A.

Narrative rules in games (4, Insightful)

Anenome (1250374) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872551)

Games need to be 'told' like a story, and follow similar rules of development, plot structure, and the like. One problem developers face is that while changing a few lines in a written story are easy, changing a scene in a game can be quite an undertaking. So, the narrative of a game needs to be fairly mature before you start building scenes from it.

Game can 'jump the shark'.

Probably the most famous jump-the-shark moment in gaming (for me at least) was when we rented a copy of Daikatana to laugh at ._. for the N64. The opening has the main character jumping up and balancing on an out held sword. *shakes head* Romero, wtf were you thinking? It's cheesy every time they do it in anime too.

One of the biggest strengths of games is the ability for choices to mean something, and for alternate endings to bloom. Chrono Trigger is a big one for me, to go back and play it through all over again, the story is rich and wonderful, and experience a few different endings here and there.

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

chaoticgeek (874438) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872705)

When ever I think of alternate endings I always remember playing Star Ocean 2: Till The End Of Time for the PSX... I'm not sure how many times I played that just to find different endings or new little quirks about the game. I was told that there were something like 80 different endings for the game.

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

BenoitRen (998927) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873629)

Star Ocean: Till The End of Time is actually the third Star Ocean game.

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

chaoticgeek (874438) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873871)

Ooops I meant Star Ocean 2: The Second Story. Thanks for the catch.

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

BenoitRen (998927) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873679)

Chrono Trigger doesn't have meaningful choices, though. Its alternate endings are gotten by beating the final boss earlier than you should. Most endings don't make sense.

Despite that, still a great game.

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

papabob (1211684) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873791)

Games need to be 'told' like a story

Like, lets say, Left 4 Dead? Yeah, great story: "Here is your gun, there are zombies, guess what". And it is one of funnier games I've played recently. We should abandon the idea of games being a form of art, and retake them as a funny way to spend time.

And you should stop assuming you're the standard (4, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874083)

Like, lets say, Left 4 Dead? Yeah, great story: "Here is your gun, there are zombies, guess what". And it is one of funnier games I've played recently. We should abandon the idea of games being a form of art, and retake them as a funny way to spend time.

Each time I read something like that... I can't help getting the picture of someone with his head so far up his rear end that he assumes that he's not just a representative sample of 1 for the whole gamer population, and indeed world, but verily _the_ prototype from which all others were moulded. And if, god forbid, they happen to like something else, they must be deluded in some way.

Guess what? We all play games "as a funny way to spend time." You're not revealing some great wisdom to anyone, you just reveal your own disconnect from the real world. The idea that someone actually tries to play games as some form of art _as_ _opposed_ to actually having fun, and to the exclusion of actually having fun, is a delusion that exists only in the imagination of fanboys. Again: we _all_ play games "as a funny way to spend time."

We just find different things fun. Some like to read a book, some like to watch a movie, and some like their stories in a more interactive form. And then some others seem to genuinely like mindlessly mowing down gazillions of NPCs just for score/level/whatever. (And who am I to say there's anything wrong with it?) Different things for different people. That's all.

Re:And you should stop assuming you're the standar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27876755)

Thanks, much.

Re:Narrative rules in games (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27874105)

Hey, how about this: let some games be a form of art, and others be just fun to play. Some can even achieve both (Shadow of the Colossus comes to mind).

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874831)

Zoey: "Hey, I wonder what's over here."
Francis: "Damnit, I was beginning to like Louis."
Bill: "Dammit Zoey, get out of my way!"
Francis: "What's this then?"
Zoey: "Oh god, Francis!"
Bill: "Quiet, witch!"
Louis: "Stay with me you guys!"
Louis: "What's that?"

*gurgling noises as Louis is killed by the Witch*

Re:Narrative rules in games (2, Informative)

mathx314 (1365325) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875713)

Actually, Left 4 Dead does have a story of sorts. It's never explicitly spelled out to the player or told in glamorous cutscenes. But sometime, sit down and play through the game looking around.

In the safe rooms, you'll find graffiti messages from people looking for loved ones or giving advice to the travelers behind them. There's posters from some organization called CEDA that give advice on what to do if you've been infected.

Outside, you'll find things like single bodies covered with a sheet. Why would a zombie be covered in a sheet? Easy. It's not a zombie, it was a survivor whose buddies covered him up after he was killed. There are cars with lights still on in the road scenes. Obviously the zombies hit hard and fast, or else people would not have left their cars running and went dashing to the hills.

So play through and look for stuff like that, then compare to 28 Days Later and see them do the same things there. Stories don't need to be explicitly told to exist.

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875971)

Huh...I never considered all of that.

L4D is going to have a very new appeal for me the next time I play. Thank you!

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

orta (786013) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876157)

A lot of this info is obtained by playing through the directors commentary. Definitely worth the 15-30 minutes of listening/playing if you want to understand the game better

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

woopate (1550379) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876313)

Actually, Left 4 Dead has an embedded Storyline, similar, or actually probably closer in nature to an expansion of the narrative style of Portal.
There is evidence of a story that has transpired, but you don't need to find it, the story is implied, there are no real absolutes to what happened.

In Portal, this is accomplished with the empty rooms, the Ratman hidden areas (ajar wall segments you can get behind and see graffiti, pictures, and general crap that some guy who might have lived behind that wall for some time left behind)

In Left 4 Dead, you can see it most obviously in the graffiti of the safe rooms. An argument scrawled by several waves of survivors who have used that room arguing with their graffiti about the time it takes to change from a human to a zombie, or the proclamations of success of other survivors "No Zombie is Safe from Chicago Ted."

But aside from the safe rooms, you can see it a bunch in other places too; corpses that have been covered with blankets on the side of the road(showing that somebody might still be around to remember the dead), abandoned or destroyed barricades, or the hundreds of names on the wall just outside the church saferoom, who were presumably either the people killed because Crazy Church Guy wouldn't let them in, who wanted to somehow be remembered, or previous survivors who thought a church was a fitting place to list the dead.

So yes, Left 4 Dead has the storyline of "Here are some Zombies", but Portal also has a storyline of "Solve the puzzles, then escape the evil computer."

Re:Narrative rules in games (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875085)

One of the biggest strengths of games is the ability for choices to mean something, and for alternate endings to bloom. Chrono Trigger is a big one for me, to go back and play it through all over again, the story is rich and wonderful, and experience a few different endings here and there.

And that is why making good stories with games is rather difficult.
We either find a few scenarios for completing the story, however even with a few scenarios it falls down to the following issues.

The Old Sierra Game/Infocom Text Adventure Style: Your goal is to complete the story the way the author wants you do do so. You may have multiple ending However and multiple solutions to get to such endings, however they normally resolve similar plots.

Not being the main character for the plot: The plot is going on around you and you just one of those extras who goes around having to do something to achieve your goals. Much like in Quake II, you may have single handedly killed killed a whole army of evil doers, however once you get to your end of the level you will now need to go to the next level were there is a slightly bigger/smarter army ready for you.

Your objective is not to mess up the plot: Blizzard games do that. In essence by loosing some of the early games you actually save humanity. Object: Prince Arthas must survive. Yea right just as he started turning evil we should just send all the nights after him and shred him to pieces.

PhD Thesis on a Similar Subject (4, Interesting)

gringer (252588) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872603)

If you want to have a read of something a bit more meaty, try this thesis (title: VIDEO GAME VALUES:

Not quite the same subject, but it does deal with narrative a tiny bit (e.g. section 5.3.3).

p.s. this guy managed to score an Xbox and PS2 for "research purposes", which were (and probably still are) enjoyed by many in the graduate lab.

challenge: storyline for donkey kong (5, Insightful)

panthroman (1415081) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872639)

TFA makes it sound like nobody thought storylines were important initially; but in the days of Donkey Kong, were non-superficial storylines even possible? With such repetitive gameplay, could good storyline exist?

Maybe the more creative out there could enlighten me. Can you make a good storyline for Donkey Kong?

(Oh no! Kong found more barrels! Again!)

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (1)

Bangmaker (1420175) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872719)

But this barrel was far more special than the last. It contained over five-hundred billion bananas. (why they are important I don't know)

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (2, Insightful)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873619)

You know, it's funny you bring up Donkey Kong because that game actually had more story than 1000s of its contemporaries. An Italian plumber climbs a construction site to save his girlfriend who was kidnapped by a giant monkey? Much more than the "shoot the ships", "shoot the rocks", or "racecar" which made up most of the other games at the time. Japanese-made games always struck me as having overly complex and convoluted plots, even when they weren't necessary. Even generic, copycat 90s shoot-em-ups had these long stories of how the spaceship pilot got there. I mean, who cares? It's a shooting game, it's mental pachinko.

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874777)

The reason games pre-1985 rarely came with stories was due to the memory limitations. Most games didn't have more than one repeating screen so the purpose, like darts, was simply to see how many points you could get. Donkey Kong's great "innovation" was that it had 4 different screens. Seriously, the magazines at the time made a big deal about it - and of course other games like Ms. Pacman quickly copied the innovation.

That doesn't mean games were entirely story-free. In the 1970s Atari developed Superman for their VCS/2600 console, which had an actual story following the familiar "Lois was kidnapped by Lexx" plot. In 1981 that same programmer used the engine to create Adventure, about a man trying to comb the countryside to defeat dragons, explore dungeons, find the golden chalice, and bring it back home to his castle. Other similar titles with storylines included E.T.*, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pitfall 2, and Haunted House (the first survival-horror game).

Stories may have been primitive in the era of only 2 or 4 kilobytes, but they did exist and the games were a heck of a lot of fun. People who owned more-advanced machines like the Atari 800 or Commodore 64 could play text adventures or text-graphics adventures like Zork and Mindshadow. The latter game was about a man who awakens on an island and he has no memory of who he is... first you learn to build a fire, which attracts a ship, and then you get back to "the city" where you uncover clues to your real identity, who killed you, and eventually you kill them. Ahhh sweet revenge. ;-)

* A lot of people malign E.T. but it was one of my favorites when I was a kid. Yes it was challenging. How is that a bad thing?

The Ballad of Jumping Jack (3, Interesting)

TuringTest (533084) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872907)

but in the days of Donkey Kong, were non-superficial storylines even possible? With such repetitive gameplay, could good storyline exist?

In the early days of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Jumping Jack had a narrative delivered in a non trivial way. You would unfold a poem, line by line after completing each level. This [] is how it was delivered through gameplay, and this [] is the whole poem. (I'd never seen it complete before today! Thanks for making me remember).

Is a limmerick a non-superficial story? The only thing I know, it did get you wanting to know which was the next line...

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873333)

Actually, he kidnapped Pauline. This is very overt in the game. The game itself doesn't explain why, but it could.

All you have to do is give Donkey Kong a motive for kidnapping Pauline. I know he's supposed to be like King Kong, but that doesn't mean you can't give him a different motive.

Maybe it's revenge and your hero is actually an anti-hero? Maybe Pauline ate one of Donkey Kong's bananas and Mario just happens to be hitting that. I don't know.

Hard to say. The Mario and Donkey Kong franchises currently represent both as the "good side." If you really wanted to, you could shift that into a "no side is really evil, they just have different perspectives and that's why they fight" kinda thing.

On an semi-related note, the graphics/gameplay of the GameBoy cartridge were vastly improved and it even had a bit of a story to it where you caught up to Donkey Kong and he dragged the damsel away to a new land. There are some 100 levels in the game. Some of the levels were quite challenging for kids.

I'm Sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27874437)

Your princess is in another castle

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (3, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874883)

TFA makes it sound like nobody thought storylines were important initially; but in the days of Donkey Kong, were non-superficial storylines even possible? With such repetitive gameplay, could good storyline exist?

Maybe the more creative out there could enlighten me. Can you make a good storyline for Donkey Kong?

(Oh no! Kong found more barrels! Again!)

You really have to make a distinction between simplistic arcade games and what we're able to do now. But as I recall, they did do a Donkey Kong Jr. game with a storyline and there's all the Mario incarnations.

If we compare it to cinema, Donkey Kong would be the early nickelodeons playing silent, extremely short shorts. NES games would be the equivalent of the silent film era and then we move right in to today. Just as story became more and more important in making a good movie, same goes with games. But we also see movies and games where that is completely ignored. With certain movies, it doesn't seem to hurt. Transformers is probably one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and when factoring in the massive budget involved in making such a shitburger, it's even less excusable. It was an insult to thinking men and women everywhere. But thinking people weren't the intended audience. That sucker did business like crazy. There's a sequel coming out promising to be even worse than the first. It'll do well, I'm sure. Still, it would have been better with a script.

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (1)

Ren.Tamek (898017) | more than 5 years ago | (#27877203)

I 100% disagree with you here. In my perfect world, the Transformers movie would be a 45 minute continuous cinematic of giant robots transforming and un-transforming themselves while fighting each other and smashing up scenery. It wouldn't have any storyline besides Autobots vs Decepticons, and it wouldn't even have any dialogue. That's exactly what I went to the cinema to see, and if you just ignore all the bits where people are saying stuff it's a very satisfying movie.

Donky Kong is a great game for the same reason. It's not thinking entertainment, you jump over barrels and collect stuff and have fun. It doesn't need a story, and providing one would probably only make it worse.

Now I can enjoy Donky Kong and Transformers while still enjoying Shadow of the Colossus and Dr. Strangelove. Both types of entertainment are equally valid for different reasons. Similarly, there are people out there who seriously value huge expositions and games that are basically playable movies. I think that sucks, but Metal Gear Solid 4 still broke sales records. Who am I to tell them they're wrong?

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (5, Insightful)

Aceticon (140883) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874987)

How could you have missed the psychological depth of Manic Miner, a man driven to go ever further surmounting ever harder and ever more dangerous obstacles, the tragic drama of Pac Man, a caricature of a man, forever trapped in a maze pursued by unrelenting foes.

Did you not saw the deep sociological implications of the hive-like mind of the aliens in Space Invaders having unbounded persistence and yet never faltering and never deviating from their group dance.

Did your hearty not skip a beat at the drama of the ball in Pong, unable to follow a path other than that which was set by others it's destiny in the hands of two conflicting personalities.

Re:challenge: storyline for donkey kong (1)

zehaeva (1136559) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876737)

I long for mod points, If I had any they all would belong to you.

Has this guy played a game since 2000? (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875869)

It would probably help more if the examples the guy cites weren't all two or more game generations out of date. Seriously, when I read that article, I thought I had stumbled onto something written eight years ago, not in 2009. No mention of the narrative in games like Oblivion, Fable, etc.? WTF?

lame (1)

Travis Mansbridge (830557) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872659)

I clicked the link. I pressed F3. I typed "snake" with no result. I typed "solid" with no result. I closed the tab.

Planescape:Torment (5, Informative)

Mhtsos (586325) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872733)

I found the most enjoyable game storytelling technique in Torment. The hero is himself unaware of the story (has amnesia), and the player discovers along with him clues to his own past and the story behind the game setting. I loved how I got a first glimpse of what's going on and then the plot was progressively clarified.

Re:Planescape:Torment (0, Troll)

Homburg (213427) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873341)

I've often heard people praise Torment's story, but I'm not convinced. Or, rather, it may have an interesting story, but it's not a good example of game storytelling, because there's little match between the story and the game mechanics. Instead, what happens is you get assigned a standard RPG fetch quest, get given a chunk of story, do another fetch quest, get more story, etc.

Re:Planescape:Torment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873695)

but your conversational choices alter your stats, which can open new conversational branches, which can then end up altering the ending.

Re:Planescape:Torment (3, Informative)

mcvos (645701) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874003)

That's exactly not what Torment is. It's a mostly dialogue-driven game that delivers the story through its main mechanism: dialogue. That's the problem with story in many other games: the story is kept outside the actual game, and that makes the story irrelevant. Torment is all about story.

Re:Planescape:Torment (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27875685)

What Planescape does is separate the storytelling from the plot - or to put it another way, it's not the destination, it's the ride. Although the major plot events happen anyway, different choices change how events unfold, and what parts of the hero's backstory are related. Almost everyone you meet is woven into the hero's history in some way, or offers you a different insight into the hero's condition. Even if the plot's the same every time, the story that is told is different.

Re:Planescape:Torment (3, Insightful)

mcvos (645701) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873993)

Torment does right what so many other games do wrong when it comes to story. Cutscenes (or its precursor, story in a seperate manual) don't do it for me, because it seperates story from gameplay. I want story to be the game.

Perhaps what I'm looking for is not storytelling, which implies a passive audience, but storyexperiencing. I want to be part of it, and only a few games (including Torment and Star Control 2) got that right. With most other games, the story is just too much removed from the gameplay that I just don't care.

Re:Planescape:Torment (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875175)

For me, the best part of the story in Torment is that it avoided the cliched "you save the world" plot and instead the story was mostly agnostic to the fate of the world and concentrated on the fate of your character. Even at the end of the game, it was about restoring your mortality for no other reason than that was what you wanted.

GTA 4's "Great" Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27872743)

I never got how the media went nuts over the great plot of GTA 4. It really wasn't that good. It was completely scripted and most of the jobs you are doing for the different mobs seem completely disjointed and unrelated from an overall theme and plot narrative.

Ok, there were a few plot diversions, but nothing completely major. The end was the best part (GTA4's "Godfather part III ending" moment), but again, it came too late in the game to save the direction of the game.

Take a game like Deus Ex, or Knights of the Old Republic which allowed for different takes on problems, and a bit of a karma system. Different endings too. The world reacts around you and to the things you do.

Deus Ex is a standout because your boss gives you a stern talking to if you go exploring in the women's toilets. Something you'd do in a game but not in real life (hopefully), but here, the game catches you out for it. ;)
It's nice to find out later in the game that something you did a long time ago pops up again.

Either way, to give the player complete freedom, the player should be able to start the game and go in a completely unique direction - so that there is no one real "true" ending and the game can get so divergent that the player ends up somewhere completely different towards the end in each case.

"Homeworld" (3, Interesting)

ralphbecket (225429) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872745)

That is all.

Re:"Homeworld" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27872951)

Homeworld was fantastic. Too bad the sequels didn't have quite the same magic.

Re:"Homeworld" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873301)

QFT. A decade later with PS3s and Xbox 360's and graphics cards I would never have even believed, I'm still waiting for Relic to go back to its roots.

Dawn of War is great, but let's see Homeworld done right.

Re:"Homeworld" (1)

16Chapel (998683) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874051)

Yup - fantastic storyling, didn't hurt that the voice acting was done properly and the sound & visual design gave such good atmosphere. Fallout had the same - really quite spooky.

A good youtube video (1)

Wingman 5 (551897) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872755)

Video Games and Storytelling [] , this is a really neat YouTube video talking about storytelling in video games, told in a format similar to Zero-Punctuation.

Re:A good youtube video (1)

Wingman 5 (551897) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872791)

Video Games and Sex [] is the sequel, also fairly funny.

Re:A good youtube video (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873875)

i watched that clip, it did sum it up pretty well. I understand that such games can't be made in america but it's a shame that the more liberal countries can't make a game where sex and intimacy are portrayed as well as violence and conflict.

Portal (4, Insightful)

Myria (562655) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872775)

Portal had what I felt was an interesting way of telling the story. The "narrator" was mostly there to explain the rather quirky gameplay. Only in the later levels did she become part of the story.

Much of Portal's story is in objects you find in optional areas of the game world - secret rooms you find behind walls. You only see the objects in the 3D world and have to read them yourself to understand their storywise meaning; nothing with them is directly narrated.

In the end, your knowledge of the story is entirely inferred from vague clues and events you find throughout the game.

Linear, but well done (1)

Hecatonchires (231908) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872933)

I really enjoyed portal. And HL2. System Shock2 was very similar. For just telling a tale, try Cave Story.

Re:Portal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873257)

Im not sure about Portal but I did enjoy the story of Morrowind and Oblivion. Even if the game doesn't have any cut-scenes, you still got a crap-load of books through out the game describing everything from lore, to gods, to history, to plants and animals. The only problem for me is that your choices (or their lack)don't influence the main story line that much.

Re:Portal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873457)

This is actually a pretty typical Valve storytelling technique. If there is one thing that company has down, it is using characters to explain gameplay and using gameplay to establish plot. Whether it's HL2, Left 4 Dead, or Portal, there is always more story in the secret areas and easter eggs than in the entire rest of the game.

Now, if they could only develop their damn games in a non-geological timeframe...

Re:Portal (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875693)

If you look deep into it, Portal is amazing for the fact that so little story is 'told', yet there are so many questions raised about what's really going on and who Chell is/may be.

Came a long way, has a long way to go (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 5 years ago | (#27872779)

Storytelling in games is one thing, GOOD storytelling games is still another one. Now, considering what we now get in movies, game stories get closer and closer to movie stories, but sadly not because the game stories get better.

There's also still the problem of replay value. Cutscenes are expensive to make. And you watch it ONCE. Maybe a few times if it's good and/or funny. But then, you skip.

Re:Came a long way, has a long way to go (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876471)

Well, generally speaking, for linear games with cut-scenes, not only do you only watch the cut scenes once, you usually only play the game to the end once as well.

When I'm on the road, I'm indestructible. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27872841)

No one can stop me...

but they try.

Rise of the Dragon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873005)

Sega CD game -Myst style, was reminiscent of Blade Runner movie. Everything was cool about the narration of the game. Then at the end they messed it all up with a cheesy 2 level arcade ending. I mean the last part was really stupid.

Narrative != Gameplay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873013)

A consequence of gaming going mainstream is that even a "hardcore" gamer these days isn't necessarily seeking a well-designed, well-balanced, maximally interactive game. Indeed, many of the best-selling and most acclaimed games of our time, are actually pretty terrible at being games, but they're pretty good at being interactive movies.

For almost as long as games have existed, there's been a caveat that better graphics do not equate to better gameplay. Moving forward, it seems we need another caveat -- no matter how good a story may be, it doesn't make a good game. Only good gameplay makes a good game, and sadly the top-ranked games typically aren't very good.

Re:Narrative != Gameplay (1)

Mathonwy (160184) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873427)

Is this really the problem? Are there too many games that have good story and bad gameplay? It seems to me that (even among 'top ranked games') bad stories seem to outnumber the good stories by a pretty absurd margin.

Heck, I'd even put the venerable halflife on the side of "good gameplay, bad story." Seriously - the story was just 'oops, we made a teleporter and now aliens are coming out.' That's basically the same story as DOOM... The only reason it was so awesome story-wise is because they TOLD their crappy story in an extremely well-done way.

Games that actually have GOOD stories seem pretty few and far between, as far as I can tell. Not saying that they are automatically good games, it just seems funny to me that we're worrying that people are spending too much time on stories, considering how the majority of the current stories suck so hard...

Re:Narrative != Gameplay (2, Insightful)

mcvos (645701) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874197)

Heck, I'd even put the venerable halflife on the side of "good gameplay, bad story." Seriously - the story was just 'oops, we made a teleporter and now aliens are coming out.' That's basically the same story as DOOM... The only reason it was so awesome story-wise is because they TOLD their crappy story in an extremely well-done way.

That's actually what good story is about: telling it well. Lots of really great classic stories would have been lame if told by an idiot. A good storyteller can make the lamest story exciting.

Of course a truly original and innovative plot would be nice, but those are rare in Hollywood and even in books. Most are about telling some lame cliche in a new, exciting and/or interesting way.

Marathon (2, Informative)

Macman408 (1308925) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873119)

When I hear "story" and "video game" in the same sentence, I always think of Marathon. It didn't have anything fancy like cut scenes, or three dimensions... But it had an evolving plot. Beyond the "you're human, they're alien, go kill them before they kill you" that most FPSs use. It's certainly not the best, but for a game released in 1994, it was pretty unusual.

Re:Marathon (2, Informative)

CraftyJack (1031736) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875579)

Marathon's storytelling was also very unobtrusive. You could get through the game with only a little bit of the story, or you could hunt for terminals and try to piece together the background.

Re:Marathon (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876507)

Most relevantly, it was entirely in-game, so it never broke the illusion. No jumping out to cut scenes or any of that shit, just read the terminals. Amazingly it had text you'd want to read. Unlike, say, anything that would have been in Halo. I wish I knew why running and gunning in SWBFII is entertaining for hours (days!) while doing it in Halo just bores me. Maybe it's the tuck and roll button.

We all know that (3, Informative)

B1oodAnge1 (1485419) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873217)

the best ever Game Story started like this:

You're a marine, one of Earth's toughest, hardened in combat and trained for action. Three years ago, you assaulted a superior officer for ordering his soldiers to fire upon civilians. He and his body cast were shipped to Pearl Harbor, while you were transferred to Mars, home of the Union Aerospace Corporation.

Re:We all know that (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875741)

What about the game story of "Go rescue the princess who has been captured by King Koopa?" That one was pretty good too.

*Not* telling the story can work too (4, Interesting)

davet2001 (1550151) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873275)

Although it was not mentioned in the original article, some games have been very successful by *not* telling the story, and leaving the player-protagonist to work it out. In Half Life 2, the player wakes up on a train, arriving at 'City 17'. There is very little information about what this is or why he is there. All you know in the first stages is that the environment is very hostile, and there are very few people who help you. You explore a town that has clearly been retrofitted with advanced security beyond it's original architecture, but no-one explains why or by whom. Civilians you meet are mostly in despair or injured, and there are clear signs of recent conflict (ruined homes, destroyed buildings). Most of the time, you can see a huge structure towering in the distance, which seems like a focal point but whether and how you'll get there is a mystery. The result is that you feel (or at least I felt) lost, confused, and quite alone at the start of the game, and intrigued to find out more. This builds up a bond with the character you are playing, and makes the arrival of friendlies (Barney, etc) much more significant. Providing the full setting of the story can detract from the realism, as it provides a perspective on the situation that a real person in the equivalent real-life situation would not have. I can only speculate about the armed forces having never served, but I suspect that in a real life battle, a front line soldier will probably not be aware of the full context of the setting, or it's strategic importance. They just carry out their duties such as a patrol, and all of a sudden one day, there's an explosion and someone starts shooting at them. They then have to figure out what's going on, survive a battle, and most likely only later think about why it all happened. I think there exists a balance between telling the story and not. Give too much information, and the story can become boring. Give too little information, and the player does not feel intrigued to play, and interest can only be sustained with gameplay. When done well, game designers will strike this balance well, and provide a good compromise between narrative, confusion, chaos, and action, all of which can be compelling.

Re:*Not* telling the story can work too (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876517)

Mod UP!!! The genius of "City 17" is that it is a familiar theme throughout literary history, so the player almost knew what to expect. And just because there was no narration or cut scenes, the level building was done in such a way that you had to hit all the "story development stops, like meeting up with Barney. In short, HL2 is very much a story telling game.

Re:*Not* telling the story can work too (1)

Dennis G. Jerz (473507) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876519)

I agree that the lack of information and agency helps the player bond with the PC. Don't forget, though, the effect of Breen delivering his propaganda speech, and the little vignettes like the woman waiting for her husband, or the guy babbling in the train station. Those are atoms of narrative that do advance the story, chiefly by setting the scene, thereby providing a context for the action that follows.

Breen's narrative doesn't so much tell the story as give us a story to work against, but it does play an important part in establishing the ethos of the world your'e about to explore.

Re:*Not* telling the story can work too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27876905)

I actually have an issue with that in HL2. In most cases, the player should know what the character knows. I got frustrated at the beginning, trying to figure out the mundane things that Gordon would already know.

One of the most grievous violations of this was in the X-Files game. The first puzzle had you, the character, trying to guess *your own* password!

Oblig... (5, Interesting)

Argumentator (1524195) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873383)

Famous quote attributed to John Carmack: "The plot in a video game is just like the plot in a porn movie -- merely an excuse to get to the action."

Infocom (1)

deltharius (1451283) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873433)

You want games based on the story? Take a look at Infocom. Founded in '79 and had nothing but story based games. I got my first computer (an Apple ][+) in '82 as a kid and spent much of my time on it playing Infocom games.
And of course Softporn Adventures (which later became Leisure Suit Larry)...

Hell, even Final Fantasy has more of a story than a lot of games these days. People became less interested in the story and plot of games and more interested in the flashy graphics. It doesn't take a lot of brain power to look at the spoon fed pretty pictures ... but to keep up with a story and solve puzzles and problems ... OMG I haz 2 think0rz!!11!! ... gamers have gotten lazy (lazier?).

Tex! (1)

cbrichar (819941) | more than 5 years ago | (#27873473)

For me, the perfect example of narration as a means of effective and immersive storytelling has to go back to the old Tex Murphy games - Under a Killing Moon, Pandora Directive & Overseer. The storylines were spectacular to begin with, but the ever-present narrator set the mood perfectly. (Another reason for their success could probably be attributed to the excellent quality of the sound production in all of their games.)

...and, purely as a rabid fan of the work the 'Tex' creators, I can't resist a chance to pitch their latest - Three Cards to Midnight [] was released just a few hours ago. Haven't had a chance to play it yet, but it sounds as though they've stuck to their trusted method of immersive story-driven gameplay and quality audio production. Can't wait!

Planescape: Torment (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27873595)

for me, this was the best ever "game as narrative", with baldur's gate 2 following a close second. I loved Torment's focus on choices unlocking memories and changing your stats as well as those of others, and it's titanic themes of tragedy and identity.

I have been looking for a game like it ever since. BG2 was close. I guess the work involved in making these types of games makes them unprofitable. It's a pity but i can't see how to change that. The backstory for nameless was immense, and the romances in BG2 apparently were quite difficult to write (perhaps because the people involved in computer gaming aren't generally romantic, more's the pity (go viconia romance go!)).

Does anyone know of a contemporary computer game with the focus on personal choices or romance, rather than blatting people real good (not that there's anything wrong with that, but it doesn't appeal to me)

It's all about dropping juicy details (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27874825)

Why do we stay up way too late reading a gripping book? Because the author is dropping little tidbits we really want to know. We keep reading because we just know the answer is no the next page.

The worst games I've played dole out the storyline like it cost a million bucks and most of it is filler or, a real sin in RPG's, stupid goblin nose quests. They could have just as easily had the quest tied into a major part of the plot but they didn't.

The best games tie that story in there tight and everything keeps fresh. You're not just blowing away generic baddies, you feel like there's something involved in the story. You can really relate this to action movies. Lucas said and then forgot "A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing." Bad action movies don't setup the action, don't invest you in the characters, the motives, it all just comes across like a sloppy mess. But a good action movie, ah! You have a feel for the character, you know what's going on, and when the action scene kicks in, you feel engaged.

YUO FAIL IT! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27875069)

Scattered notes (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875219)

This is one of my pet peeves with story telling in games, the reliance of scattered notes, diaries, e-mails, or whatever in order to advance the story. It's cliched and unnatural. For example, in the world of Rapture in Bioshock, apparently people had a habit of recording short (1-2 minute) audio "diaries" and then left them lying around. Who would do that?

Would you kindly come up with a better way to fill in the back story?

Half-Life 2 (1)

AttilaSz (707951) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875495)

Half-Life 2 was revealing the story gradually through naturally occurring dialogues and events throughout the gameplay. It's one of best storytellings (no external narrative at all, actually, all naturally interwoven into the gameplay) I've ever encountered in a game. Portal gets a close second.

I'm playing Bioshock now and honestly, the recorded diaries feel forced for a storytelling device.

Good storytelling in (fairly) recent games (1)

RogueyWon (735973) | more than 5 years ago | (#27875555)

I've seen quite a few games over the last couple of years that have really impressed me through the way they tell their story. In particular:

Lost Odyssey - not the fairly standard Japanese RPG fare that makes up most of the game, but rather the text narrative used for the dreams. Very minimalist - just animated text on an almost static abstract background with a few ambient sounds, but they covered an impressive range of scenarios and even genres. A few were genuinely well-written, even by the standards of non-video-game writing.

Valkyria Chronicles - awesome game (a genuine PS3 killer-title), awesome visuals and a very well-told story. The whole "book" device used to tell the story works extremely well. It's also notable that, unusually for a Japanese game, Valkyria Chronicles manages to avoid most of the usual anime cliches when it comes to its characters. The recently-started anime is sadly a bit more "traditional", making Alicia into more of a typical tsundere type, but it's still good stuff for a game-to-anime adaptation.

Red Alert 3 - knows precisely what it is - pure B-movie schlock - and has a lot of fun with it. It's completely ridiculous in every respect, but it carries its storyline along with such energy that it's really difficult to care.

Super Smash Bros Brawl - interesting one, this. The story's wafer thin. But, unusually for Nintendo, they did put a bit of effort into it and the game is far better for it. The short, punchy and completely over-the-top nature of the CGI scenes fits the game perfectly.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 - integrates its storyline into the gameplay with consumate skill. Japanese RPGs are often criticised (not without truth, in some cases) for being essentially a series of cutscenes separated by fairly cookie-cutter battles. Not so with Persona 4. If you want to beat the game, not only do you need to fight through the dungeons and beat the bosses, but you also need to solve the murder mystery. At the risk of spoilers, the player is asked, around 90% of the way through the game, to identify the culprit behind the murders that have occurred throughout the game. If the player has paid attention, watched for background details and picked up on the right clues, he will be able to do so and procede on to the final dungeon. If he hasn't, then unless he gets a lucky guess (and there are a lot of options to guess from), it's BAD END.

Portal - the best example around of a game which tells a story with a minimum of actual narration, at which it far surpasses the horribly over-rated Half-Life 2. Within the specific confines of Portal, the traditional Half-Life storytelling technique works fantastically. It doesn't matter that you've got next to no background information - it's easy to assume that the protagonist has woken up without her memory. It's also easy to accept that she doesn't speak - there's nobody to speak to. In Half-Life 2 by contrast, the technique fell flat on its face. Not only were we expected to believe that Gordon never says a single word, but we're also expected to believe that none of the other characters ever go "Oh, Gordon, you might want a quick update on what's happened while you were away...". This was just too much for my suspension of disbelief to handle.

Myth (1)

stewbacca (1033764) | more than 5 years ago | (#27876609)

No love for the epic narration from the Myth series? At a minimum, those games had the best use of narration in tutorial scenes ever, and the maps and narrations gave Myth games a Lord of the Rings feel, years before the movies.
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