Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby tlaero » Sat, 16Jul02 19:31

TheGreatJoeGargery wrote:I feel the story should always be in service to the game, not the game to the story.


This is one of the fundamental points we disagree on. If we're talking about a story-based game like the ones I make, my preference is for the game to be in service to the story. Obviously this isn't true of ALL games. Tetris doesn't need a story. And I've enjoyed a number of xbox games that didn't really have stories. But if I'm going to look back fondly on the game years later, it's almost always going to be because of the story, not the gameplay.

Like I said, I see games as a storytelling medium, like oral histories, novels, comics, and movies. Games, by being 1st person and making the player interact with them have the possibility of drawing the player in more and allowing more compelling storytelling, but that needs to be balanced against allowing the player to do things that break the story. Few people would want to read a book about a guy who wants to help his girlfriend get a part in the play, but does a mediocre job of it, so she doesn't succeed. And few people would want to read a book 10 times to get minor variations on the same story. (First he went to the strip club, then he went to the bar. No first he went to the bar, then he went to the strip club.) A developer needs to find the right balance. But when they do ... OMG.

Here's an example that stuck with me.
The first Star Wars movie. Bad guy says, "Fire" and destroys a planet.
I thought, "Oooh, he's a bad dude."

The Bioware Star Wars: Nights of the old Republic game. You spend about ten hours doing things to help people on a planet, including convincing someone to take her kids and get away from an abusive situation. Then, as you're getting off the planet, the bad guy says, "Fire" and destroys it.
I sat there with my mouth agape. "But ... but ... what about all those people I just saved? No, he's going to see my ship escaping and realize he doesn't need to destroy the planet. Right? Right?" Then, as the planet burned, my heart hurt.

That's "game as a storytelling medium" at its best. But the game forced that story on me. You could argue that, with more agency, we could have had a storyline where that didn't happen. But I would argue that the game would be weaker for it.

There are two scenes in Redemption for Jessika that make me choke up a bit. There's enough agency in the game that you can miss them (there are a few a paths that they're not part of). If anyone played the game and only did the paths that don't show him those scenes, then I'm ... sad.

There's a dialog tree in Life with Keeley that reveals something really important about Keeley and Keisha. But it's not on the ideal path, so most people never saw it. As a storytelling game developer, that colored my opinions on the balance between agency and story. (I feel that I got it wrong there.)


TheGreatJoeGargery wrote:The interaction with the game is how the game communicates with the player.


I also disagree with this. In my opinion, the story is how the game communicates with the player. The interaction with the game colors the story. An example here was in the first Deus Ex game where you fought your way through a ton of bad guys for a long time, only to get a frantic call from some people equally far away that they were about to get killed. Having just lived it, you know you couldn't possibly get to them in time. There's storytelling power there. It's much more compelling than text about how the character's heart sinks when he realizes he can't possibly get there in time. My heart actually sunk.


Again, diverse opinons are good things. There's nothing wrong with people who enjoy playing similar content multiple times to see every variation. And there's nothing wrong with people who want the option to not experience the story that the developer is trying to tell. But my tastes differ from those, and I write games for my tastes.

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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby tlaero » Sat, 16Jul02 19:36

LRM wrote:In my opinion... TheGreatJoeGargery should preface every one of his posts with "In my opinion".
...
his "by God my opinion is the only one that matters" He is more insistent about his slant than are most posters.


I don't feel this way. I feel that Joe has been very respectful and open about his opinions. This is the internet and people are having a thoughtful discussion about differing opinions. That's ... remarkable. I think it would be wrong for a moderator to impose any changes on the behaviors we've seen in this thread.

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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby LRM » Sat, 16Jul02 20:06

A year or so back we had a very opinionated young woman make an appearance...
I fought tooth and nail for her... that did not keep anyone from running her out of town on a rail.
The only difference I see here is the gender.

More than anything I don'y want Shark and his games, swayed by this person's thoughts... I see a real danger of that occurring.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby shark » Sun, 16Jul03 00:21

All arguments of this discussion are serious and interesting. Pleasant to follow.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby moskys » Sun, 16Jul03 10:15

LRM wrote:A year or so back we had a very opinionated young woman make an appearance...
I fought tooth and nail for her... that did not keep anyone from running her out of town on a rail.
The only difference I see here is the gender.

More than anything I don'y want Shark and his games, swayed by this person's thoughts... I see a real danger of that occurring.


You're supposed to be a moderator, not a bouncer. You should only act when there's a real problem. When there's only a respectful discussion like this one, you should watch and enjoy (and of course express your own opinions on the topic, if you like). I find this kind of preventive public warning really annoying. Just my 2 cents
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby Sarchx » Sun, 16Jul03 11:01

I think, there is a lot of good arguments on each side with valid points.
Unfortunately, I think you are both wrong [img]images/icones/icon10.gif[/img]

You can't really have one, without the other.
If you only have the interactivity, you will have no motivation to move forward, as there is no story/progress.
If you only have the story, you have a novel - not a game.

As I see it, you will always have to make a compromise between the 2 - the big question is, how much weight do you put on each of them, to create a balance.
That is where the difference between developers come in. Tlaero and Mortze puts a lot of weight into the story, and less into interactivity, whereas Joe and Shark seemd to put more weight into interactivity and less into the story.
Neither side is right or wrong, it's just different balances - and both are enjoyable at different times. Comparing them is like comparing an arcade game with a rpg.

In my opinion, there has to be interactivity/choices with consequences within a game.
Therefore, a completely linear story doesn't appeal much to me, since I have no influence on the outcome.
That being said, I consider DwE to be one of the best games out there. (Although I played it numerous times to find out how to team up with Chloe and steal the book, just to find out it wasn't an option).
On the other hand, it was the full package of the game (Story/Characters/Graphics) that made me want to replay it. Without those things, I wouldn't bother.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby TheGreatJoeGargery » Sun, 16Jul03 20:28

Wow, this thread has progressed too much in my absence to comment individually on everything that has been said. Instead of addressing each point individually I'll try to explain my though process for coming to the conclusions I have come to. In case it's not clear, this is all my opinion. Also, this may ramble a bit but I assure you it gets to a point eventually.

I'm sure people have noticed that when you go back and watch old movies that they are made differently then they are today. If you watch movies from the classical period of Hollywood (from about the early days of film to the mid to late 1960's) you'll defiantly notice this. Many of the earlier films had acting that was not very naturalistic. Video editing was very simplistic. There were a lot of other differences too. You can see how things changed as the classical period progressed though. This was because movies were originally just thought of as plays that you recorded with a movie camera. But although there are superficial similarities between theater and film, there are a lot of differences as well. On stage you have to make sure that the person in the back row can hear you just as well as the person in the front row. You have to make grand, exaggerated gestures so that same person in the back row can see you just as well in the first row. In the very early days you will see this in film, but then people starting to realize that movies aren't just recorded theater. I have a microphone. I can WHISPER in my movie if I wanted to. I can move the camera. I can focus my audience's attention exactly where I want it. I can zoom in for a closeup. I can edit the film and connect two or more scenes that are far apart in distance or time. I have so many more tools in my storytelling toolbox on film than I do in theater. More naturalistic forms of acting became popular with the wide range of emotions that the actors are now free to display since the camera could help them communicate those emotions to the audience. The way you could interact with your audience was very different in a movie than in a play.

Now we fast forward to the late 60's and early 70's to what is known as the "New Hollywood" period. There were some cultural changes that put the movie industry in some pretty dire straights. Movie theaters were primarily located in cities but since World War II a large amount of the North American population had moved to the outskirts of the city into suburban areas. Also television proved to be substantial competition for film which kept people at home instead of going out to the movies. Plus movies for the most part tended to hold on to many of the ideas that first originated in theater and transfer into movies. Movies had progressed since the early days, but nobody went to film school and studied film back then, you got into the business by being an apprentice of somebody already in the industry. They taught you what they learned from those they apprenticed with going back to the dawn of film. So the industry was still dragging around some outdated concepts from the early theater influences.

During this time the film industry was desperate though, and were willing to try anything. Some people were talking about "the end of movies". It was that bad. So a bunch of new filmmakers that actually went to film school were given a shot to do their thing. These guys studied film. They understood what made a film a film and what made it not theater. These were guys like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. But there were also a bunch of other people also who had different ideas. Some of these guys were good, some were not so good (history often forgets the guys that weren't so good when they talk about how good movies were "back in the day"). In this era of film making all bets were off. There were no rules whatsoever. The movie industry had basically broken down into a million different pieces and these people were putting it back together. And they weren't just piecing it back together using puzzle pieces from an American puzzle box either. Influences from other nation's film industries were also being used to piece everything back together (with Akira Kurosawa from Japan and Sergio Leone from Italy being notable examples of this). People were doing things that broke all the unwritten rules of movie making and seeing what worked and what didn't.

After the dust settled what people had noticed that for the most part, a large amount of what the film industry had been doing was actually contributing to making good movies. The three act system of film writing (where the film is broken down into three parts, introducing the character, providing a challenge to the protagonist then resolving the challenge) remained and was much more entrenched (but things like the "5 minute rule" which was a belief that your first act needed to be over in five minutes defiantly was relaxed). While most of what was good about movies remained, the excess baggage was left out. What had happened is that a lot of the Old Hollywood style thought from either literature or theater that was still clinging to the industry was cast off at that time. One of the notable differences was that the camera was used more and more to tell the story. This is significant because it is the camera that is basically the defining feature of films. Non invisible editing became utilized more (before there was a belief that cuts should be as seamless as possible and unnoticed by the viewer), so the jump cut became more prominent as well as things like tracking shots that follows the character was found to be able to tell the story of a scene without any dialogue exchange (like the tracking shot in the opening of Mass Effect 1 where we follow Shepard through the bridge of the Normandy to get the player into the Mass Effect world for example). Movies with a strong story driven narrative were scaled back and you saw a lot more character driven content (where you follow your character through an arc where that character changes over the course of a movie rather than following a story), Establishing shots became the primary tool to tell the audience where they are instead of just showing a map (with perhaps some dotted lines, Indiana Jones style). So in short, the camera was more and more being used to tell the story.

What I am saying is that I feel that video games need to learn to use direct interaction to the fullest extent in games like early movie makers had to learn to use the camera in early movies. Games by their nature of direct intervention can tell stories much differently than movies or theater or novels can. We just have to learn how and experiment. Games do have a lot of superficial similarities with film and I think many writers translate what they see in films to what they make in games. But just like movies had to grow apart from theater and become it's own thing, I feel video games need to do the same. The camera is what defines a movie and using the camera changes the way stories can be told. For the gaming industry, learning how to use direct interaction with the players will also change how stories are told (or if you want another way to look at it, how emotions are conveyed to the player). Many writers learn their craft by being exposed to writing from different mediums such as film, books and/or the stage. We learn things that are fundamentally true for these mediums. However like what was found in theater and movies, what is fundamentally true in one medium may not be true in others. I can't think of ANY other medium where you could get away with not having a story (Kubrick tried it with film in 2001 a Space Oddesey with mixed results. The recent film Boyhood may qualify though). I think this is why it is hardwired into people to think "I NEED a story" and "a game without a story is inferior to a game with a good, well developed story". This is because in most other mediums this is true. At the same time I can't think of any other medium where I can directly interact with my environment myself. Where I can talk to main (and side) characters myself. Where I can explore a room myself. If you think of a story as an "emotional delivery system", whereby it is used to create an emotional response in the consumer, you can see how having a direct interface with your medium can negates the need for a story.

You will also note that I highlighted the word can in the last sentence. I want to reiterate for the 100th time that it is POSSIBLE. You can do it. But story is now something you can add to the game to make better, not something that everything else must hinge on. Like the actors in the early days of Hollywood, we need to stop shouting so the people in the back row can hear and remember that games are a more intimate medium, often connecting one on one with a single person and connecting with that person directly. We can whisper now.

All I am proposing is after you come up with a game concept, take a look at your game. Ask yourself "is there any way I could do what I want to do with this game in a more interactive way?", much like those fimmakers in the New Hollywood era did with their movies. Then maybe one time try something different with how you present your game. It may work. It may not. Either way I'm sure you'll learn something. So at least take it into consideration. Or not. The choice is yours. You are the one making the game not me. You can do what you want.
Last edited by TheGreatJoeGargery on Tue, 16Jul05 05:42, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby Greyelf » Mon, 16Jul04 01:39

@TheGreatJoeGargery
Thank you for your clear description of the growth of the US film industry, and your thoughts and opinions on possible ways that the game industry could also mature.

I would like to highlight three things that you may of either overlooked or deliberately left out in/of your description which made some of methodologies and techniques used in later movie making possible, those three things being:

a. The availability of new technologies, which either made something now possible or reduced the time/effort required to do that thing. (eg. dollies)
b. Larger crew sizes.
c. More time allowed/allocated to make the movie.

The above three things also have a very great effect on the potential end result when making a game.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby TheGreatJoeGargery » Tue, 16Jul05 05:19

Greyelf wrote:@TheGreatJoeGargery
Thank you for your clear description of the growth of the US film industry, and your thoughts and opinions on possible ways that the game industry could also mature.

I would like to highlight three things that you may of either overlooked or deliberately left out in/of your description which made some of methodologies and techniques used in later movie making possible, those three things being:

a. The availability of new technologies, which either made something now possible or reduced the time/effort required to do that thing. (eg. dollies)
b. Larger crew sizes.
c. More time allowed/allocated to make the movie.

The above three things also have a very great effect on the potential end result when making a game.


I don't want to get into a full discussion about the history of Hollywood, but part of the reason that the studio system collapsed in the 70's is due to movie budgets ballooning out of control. Movies like Cleopatra were bankrupting studios when nobody was going to see them, so just spending more money doesn't make movies better or create innovation (usually the opposite is true). Jaws, which pretty much invented the summer blockbuster, had a relatively low budget and became successful despite the special effects they had planned not working out for the movie (the robotic shark they had hardly worked).

The history of Hollywood was meant as an example of how the industry held on to old traditions of how movies were made for a very long time. Movie making technology did not radically explode between 1960 and 1967 (the beginnings of the New Hollywood era) to warrant the huge shift in how movies were made. It was the shift in how they though of the medium and what they could do within that medium. It was the realization of "We have a camera. We can tell stories in completely different ways because we have that camera. Well in games, we have direct interaction with the players. We can tell completely different stories using that direct interaction."

Here is a concrete example using a current conversation on one of the games being discussed here. In the Art With Carla thread, everyone has been talking about the cell phone mechanic which I, along with a lot of other people on that thread, think is great. It raises the tension in a scene. You send Carla a message, then you have to wait until she sends a response, then the tension the player feels (note that it is not the character you are playing but the actual player playing the game) increases while you wait. This is FANTASTIC!!

So now we think, "what can we do with this"? Well, in the erotic games genre building tension, specifically sexual tension, is defiantly something we want. I wrote a post a little while ago where I compared the games with infidelity and cheating to be like horror movies, mostly due to the slow building of tension and getting your mind obsessing about what COULD happen is often way more powerful that telling the player what is actually happening. This may be your thing or it may not be, the following example is meant to show how you can think about crafting a story for the game starting with the connection you want to make with your player rather than starting with a story then adding the game play.

So let's start with that. Now we've decided that's what we want our player to feel is that territorial anxiety of a partner than MAY be having sex with someone else combined with sexual tension. Again, we're starting with an emotion, not a story. For the next step we are going to make an absolutely generic meet and fuck game. Not so good, but not so bad either. Guy is on a date with a girl, nothing fancy. But we are going to throw in a twist. We'll establish that (I'm going to assume the player is male) the husband and wife have gotten bored with their marriage and have decided to go on dates with other people. They have both decided to go out on a date with another person this night. In addition, both the husband and wife have a cell phone that can send texts and even pictures to each other. So now, lets say this date is in a restaurant, during your normal, routine meet and fuck game, the husband will periodically feel a buzzing from his cell phone indicating he received a message from his wife (who is also on a date). So does he answer it in front of his date, possibly offending her by texting while on a date? Does he wait for a natural break, like excusing himself to go to the washroom or waiting for her to go (and if he asks to go to the washroom what happens if it buzzes again, ask to go another time. I don't think his date will like him going to the washroom 20 times during the date). During the game the husband will only have so many opportunities to answer the texts (if he wants to also maintain the date) while still wanting to know what is going on with his wife on her date. Picking the right time to respond may also influence what happens on his wife's date. The husband is also wondering things like "what if my wife goes home with this guy and I strike out on my date?" There are hundreds of possibilities now that a talented writer can take advantage of.

Notice that our game HAS a story but it is built around the emotion we want the player to feel and the game play mechanic we want to get the player to feel that emotion. We add to the story or dial the story back as needed to accommodate that. The story does exist and can be quite elaborate if we want it to be depending on the resources of the developer. But the story always accommodates the game. If this is just one person making a game, this may be all you need. Just throw in a scene of you talking with your wife on the phone when you enter the restaurant for the setup, then think of a few endings for different outcomes from the decisions you make. If this is a paid LOP game on the level of something like Living With Temptation you can have a whole opening section where they go through the process of making the decision that they want to be swingers and perhaps have multiple dates throughout the game, where the stakes are continually escalating each date. The point is once you start with your emotion and mechanic to deliver that emotion then the story builds off of that. We always keep in mind what we are trying to accomplish with this game, which is what we want our player to feel. The player is always an active participant, not a passive observer. What you defiantly don't want is your player watching someone else's story (which often happens when the story is made before the writer thinks about the connection they want to make with the player).
Last edited by TheGreatJoeGargery on Tue, 16Jul05 05:46, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby TheGreatJoeGargery » Tue, 16Jul05 05:37

Also I want to give an example of a story I love in a game elevating a game to show I am not anti-story.

This weekend I was playing Alien Isolation. I picked it up during an online sale a while ago and like many other games I pick up on those sales I never got around to playing it. I am a huge fan of the Alien franchise (well, of the first two movies anyway). I played it and I LOVED it. I especially loved the story. It added to the game is so many ways.

Alien Isolation is one of those games you can't really describe, you just have to play. You are in constant fear throughout the entire game. The game is specifically designed to make you feel you are never safe and that the Alien could be right behind you at any moment. It is a stealth survival horror game taking heavy influence from the first Alien movie. The story was great. It was so good I wished the plot would have been made into one of the movies (and some of the other movies in the franchise taken out). The story follows Amanda Ripley (Ellen Ripley's daughter) and takes place between the first and second movie and chronicles her search for what happened to her mother after the events of the first movie.

As much as I loved the story what I noticed was that if the story was taken out, the game would still be terrifying. This game could start with me waking up and not knowing whats going on (much like in Portal for example). The way the game is designed I would still be terrified playing the game even if the protagonist was a faceless, voiceless protagonist. The developers made the connection they wanted to make with the player and it had nothing to do with the story. They made the connection through the game mechanics and game environment. At times you have to unbolt a door using a wrench, taking time to do and making noise when the Alien could be right behind you for all you know. Or you need to hack a console using a minigame, again, taking time to focus on your task and not noticing the alien sneaking in the room through the overhead vent.

So because the story is not necessary for the game do I want the story taken out of the game? Absolutely not. It elevates the game and makes it better. But it is not the story that makes the game a good game.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby Blue » Tue, 16Jul05 09:48

It appears to have been a bad example.

To tell the truth, it is impossible to say how much important story in games. In some games it is in the foreground (eg history of mass effect, Baldur's Gate, the GTA, and so on), but it's an RPG, in these games the story and the plot are an integral part of the story, without which this game in my opinion would have been impossible.

In other games, the story is in the background, but still important (such as Mortal Kombat, Starcraft, Doom ...) Here the plot plays a secondary role, as an addition to the amazing graphics, balance, speed and action. Many do not know the history of Sub-Zero and Scorpion, do not know why Raynor indifferent to Kerrigan and who the hell dark templar are, but at the same time they enjoy playing these games and follow the storyline.

And of course there are games where the plot is completely unimportant. This example tanks, shooting, horror type of the walking dead...
although things here are not so obvious too ...

In general, I think it is not necessary rake up all the games under a single article.

Sincerely Blue.
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby john milton » Tue, 16Jul12 14:22

I deeply enjoyed this exchange of opinions; it was both interesting and useful.
It gave me plenty of elements to think about, I’ll try to write a couple of ideas as soon as I find a little time.

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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby Mortze » Tue, 16Jul12 15:52

TheGreatJoeGargery wrote:I am a huge fan of the Alien franchise (well, of the first two movies anyway).

We may not agree on this topic's subject, but you Sir, have very good taste! I also am a HUGE fan of the Alien (not Predator) franchise (first 3 movies + Prometheus).

I'll repost this just because.

Image
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby TheGreatJoeGargery » Thu, 16Jul14 01:30

Mortze wrote:
TheGreatJoeGargery wrote:I am a huge fan of the Alien franchise (well, of the first two movies anyway).

We may not agree on this topic's subject, but you Sir, have very good taste! I also am a HUGE fan of the Alien (not Predator) franchise (first 3 movies + Prometheus).

I'll repost this just because.

Image


And I think this is a grand way to end this discussion :)
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Re: Is the Story the Central Part of A Good Game?

Postby cj1015 » Sun, 16Aug21 08:05

All games tell a story, be it simple or complex...

That said do you have to have a script to make a good game...
No, not really but you do have to have a series of events...
Ex the FPS (which I despise) - you have to have a map, the different terrain obstacles make for the story in this case...
Ex Eve Online (Which I really liked) this is a giant sandbox, you can do whatever the heck you want here mine ore for whatever purpose you like or lead a large-scale assault on bases somewhere in the galaxy.
Ex Ultima Online (Does anyone remember this?) ---- They got away from the story and made it into an almost real economy and your story was your own... this is the thing about MMO's
Ex Xcom- (will always be a favorite) This has a script and a story... how it plays out is based on your abilities as a strategist and how often you save (at least for me)

The Kinds of games that Shark produces follow a script they are elegant and sometimes surprising. Do you need a story? not a developed one but you need to have a beginning and turn points and presumably an end unless you want it to be open-ended, in which case you need something entertaining for someone to do forever.

Ideally, a game will have one or more objectives- and then two or three or more methods to reach those objectives, sometimes it's just one, that's typical because most programmers want to get to the end and don't want to be creative about it. The game is the story if it's not entertaining no one will play it if it is then it will go viral, if it's well Meh, then you'll get people playing it once or twice and quit on it.
That's about all I have to say about that but if you want help with a story let me know.
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