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Author Topic: Storytelling in Games: The Past and Present  (Read 1069 times)
CDFN
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« on: May 31, 2011, 05:42:16 AM »

http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/115/1159020p1.html

This is definitely worth cheking out because of the huge amount of feedback they got from a ton of developers. Storytelling is one of the most hotly debated topics in this industry. See what the likes of Casey Hudson, Fumito Ueda, Ken Levine, David Cage and many, many others have to say about it.
This is only part 1 of the feature so there will be a lot of food for thought here.
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CDFN
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« Reply #1 on: June 04, 2011, 08:35:51 AM »

Parts 2 and 3 are up.

I think Radical Entertainment's Matt Armstrong summed it up nicely:

"The greatest challenge to storytelling in gaming is the player's mindset. When you watch a movie or read a book, you're putting yourself into a very receptive frame of mind where you make the conscious decision to sit back, relax and process the narrative that's being presented to you. Players make a very different commitment when playing a video game – the adrenaline and endorphins are flowing and the player's motivation is centred around overcoming whatever challenges are presented to them by the game. The end result is that people engaged in playing a game are less receptive to long exposition, which, in turn, limits the scope of the story that can be told without totally losing the player's interest and attention."


David Cage also had some interesting things to say:

"The main problem is that you don't control the main protagonist of your story, but at the same time, you need to anticipate what he will want to do so you can produce the required assets. My trick to do this is to create a situation providing a clear context for choices. By doing this, you limit the options of the player to what makes sense in the context. He has the feeling that the game allowed him to do whatever he wanted, although in fact he only did what was logical in the context. These options were limited enough so you could anticipate them and implement them.
Everything is about creating invisible boundaries where the player is free to do whatever he wants. If the boundaries are too tight, the experience is linear and boring, if they are too large, there are too many options, your player will get lost and you will have a lot of assets to produce that very few players will see. The challenge is to find the right balance to make the journey look like a free ride although you, as the writer, were always in control."




It's one of the biggest challenges for developers, coming up with a good story is hard by itself, but putting it into a game in a way that feels natural is a huge challenge.

I was hoping they would ask these developers what they consider to be the best videogame stories ever, some really interesting answers here. A lot of them picked ICO while Ueda picked HL2.

Personally, I think the witcher games, specially TW2, completely redefined what storytelling in games is about, it's in a league of its own as far as I'm concerned.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2011, 09:09:35 AM by CDFN » Logged

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darcthelad
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« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2011, 09:48:19 AM »

I like the part from Jack Scalici that starts out with "I still consider a couple of 10+ year old games as having some of the best..." I've gone back and played most of these games, and stories like in FFIX and Arc the Lad 2 are amazing and well-translated. I can't say much for more recent games, but I think Jack Scalici said it best when he said there were some stellar stories 10+ years ago but it also seemed like a lot of game developers weren't even putting effort into making engaging stories. I also love how he later slams critics - yeah! Critics suck! (usually)

What David Cage says, starting with "I don't think that storytelling in games has matured over the last decade. There are many reasons..." is also spot-on, IMO, although I wonder what he meant by the last paragraph there.

I also agree with what Jan-Bart van Beek says, starting with "Storytelling in games is, for the most part, still in its adolescent stages..." That does often seem to be what happens, to me at least.

They were all smart responses though, and you know they know what they're talking about, which is great. So thank you for posting this. It's just too bad I haven't played any games they talk about. The talk about melding story and gameplay together has me wondering what they mean.
(I'm going to read Parts 2 and 3 later - Part 1 was longer than I thought)

edit: Where are Parts 2 and 3? Could you post links for me?
« Last Edit: July 26, 2011, 09:50:46 AM by darcthelad » Logged
CDFN
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« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2011, 12:22:19 PM »

Here you go:

http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/116/1165886p1.html

http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/116/1165904p1.html
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darcthelad
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« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2011, 11:41:34 PM »

I read Part 2 now. The most interesting line, I think, is from Jack Scalici - "Put it this way if the champions of story (writers) and champions of gameplay (game designers) aren't fighting throughout the course of development, something is probably very wrong!"

It makes sense to a point, because the two not butting heads could be a result of one of them giving up. It could also be the result of them being in harmony with one another, so this won't be true 100% of the time.

I don't know. I didn't really care about this one, because I prefer to be along for the ride with an actual character instead of a hollow shell of a character and would take a great linear story over a shallow extremely-open-ended story any day. A part of me actually resents people getting it in their heads that they're heroes from doing nothing of significance - the title of hero as well as that grand feeling of accomplishment should be reserved for real firefighters, paramedics, etc. And making people feel like heroes without truly doing anything of worth is expected to make them less likely to actually do those things in the same way (there was a study done on this some time ago) that proclaiming one's intentions makes someone less likely to actually do what he/she proclaimed because that proclamation gives him/her a similar sense of achievement as actually doing what he/she proclaimed.
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darcthelad
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« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2011, 07:31:27 AM »

Thank you for posting Parts 2 and 3, CDFN. :)

I still don't really know what they mean when they talk about more recent games. Oh well.

Would anyone be happy to explain what they probably mean when they talk about the melding of gameplay and story? All I can think of are things like having the characters talk during battles, battles being significant to the story somehow, and being able to move while a character is talking (like in Chrono Cross). It doesn't sound like that's what they mean though since those aren't new ideas.
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CDFN
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« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2011, 01:06:24 PM »

Thank you for posting Parts 2 and 3, CDFN. :)

I still don't really know what they mean when they talk about more recent games. Oh well.

Would anyone be happy to explain what they probably mean when they talk about the melding of gameplay and story? All I can think of are things like having the characters talk during battles, battles being significant to the story somehow, and being able to move while a character is talking (like in Chrono Cross). It doesn't sound like that's what they mean though since those aren't new ideas.

They mean games that give hints at what's going on without having a character actually explain it or writing it somewhere. Ever play Portal?
Another example is showing the player important events without taking control away (cutscene). Half Life 2 was a big step forward in this way of storytelling.
In the Team Ico games there's barely any dialogue, yet anyone who's played their games will tell you how great the stories are. The secret is letting players fill the gaps themselves by placing subtle hints in the scenery instead of letting characters talk out of their asses in endless cutscenes or putting huge encyclopedias in the game.
This way you do 2 very important things:
Let the player stay in control.
Let the player discover the story by himself instead of forcing it on him.
These 2 aspects go a very long way in improving the experience.
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darcthelad
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« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2011, 11:17:47 PM »

Thank you. How do you think showing the player important events without taking control away (cutscene) would work in a different type of game than a first-person shooter? I ask because other types of games rarely give as precise camera control to the player.

So the hints in the scenery, it would be something like blood splattered on a wall or something?
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Maxximum
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« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2011, 06:04:17 PM »

The main difference between past and present story telling in games is rather simple. In the past, games told stories like books, relying mostly on text and the players imagination. Now games resemble movies, with visuals and audio doing most of the work. While this may not be directly related to the articles that ware posted, I actually consider this to be a rather significant difference. Neither form is bad, but it greatly changes the players perception. The movie style simply laying everything out as the author intended it to be seen. The book form on the other hand, gave the player room for their own interpretation. One visually and aurally appeals to the senses, the other stimulates the imagination.
« Last Edit: August 01, 2011, 06:16:04 PM by Maxximum » Logged

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darcthelad
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« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2011, 09:16:27 AM »

Ah, thank you Maxximum. That makes it so much simpler. :)

Yeah, I got the feeling the article/designers quoted were trying to conflate graphics, music, and sound effects (in other words, presentation) with story by calling graphics, music, and sound effects "storytelling."

I guess that raises another question (for anyone). Do you think it's still possible for a game with a story told mostly through text to be successful? What if it only has decent gameplay?
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CDFN
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« Reply #10 on: August 02, 2011, 10:06:58 AM »

Ah, thank you Maxximum. That makes it so much simpler. :)

Yeah, I got the feeling the article/designers quoted were trying to conflate graphics, music, and sound effects (in other words, presentation) with story by calling graphics, music, and sound effects "storytelling."

I guess that raises another question (for anyone). Do you think it's still possible for a game with a story told mostly through text to be successful? What if it only has decent gameplay?

Ultimately very few people buy games because of the story, gameplay and graphics sell a game. The average gamer doesn't like to read very much so having walls of text in there might be a mistake, most people wont read it and it will fly over their heads.
Like I said above the best way is to represent it visually but with subtlety. I guess people are prepared for lots of exposition and dialogue when they play a rpg but in other genres you'll want to keep it simple. Most of the more effective story are pretty simple, if things get too complicated the player will eventually lose interest most of the time.
Personally, what makes or breaks a story for me most of the time are the characters, if I really like the characters I'll sit through the game even if the main plot isn't stellar. An excellent example of this is Resonance of Fate, the plot is pretty much non-existant during 90% of the game but I didn't care, the interactions between the 3 main characters carried the game for me. They were charismatic, had excellent voice acting and some very funny dialogue, it didn't really matter if the dialogue was about the main plot or something completely mundane, it was always a joy to watch.
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