Monday, February 19, 2007

Story In Games

So this is an issue that has been brewing in my head for a while now. I'm not sure I'll do it justice in one post (plus I'm battling a cold) but I at least want to lay the ground work.

First some background points to help paint my mood:

A few days ago I saw this MTV interview with Alex Ward (Creative Director of Criterion Games). It gets a little ranty, but burried in here is one very interesting point -- the story in Black, the game that was marketed as 'Gun Porn' was written by Alex as a form of social commentary on America's foreign policy. Alex, it would seem, is a little frustrated that most gamers these days just skip the story to fast track to the explosions.

The next piece that caught my attention, also on MTV, is an interview with Midway Creative Director Harvey Smith. Harvey talks about his efforts to take the played 'Area 51' mythos and turn it on its ear a little by injecting some modern dilemas and, once again, social commentary. I like this quote:

But the hook that makes this game matter to its creator is its political
charge, its twist on the typical good-guy/ bad-guy gaming relationship. "You
could just make a metaphor for terrorists. But the most interesting sort of
multidimensional part is, 'Wait, what if they are terrorists we helped


We have here two over-the-top action games (one shipped, one in development) where the core gameplay mechanic is to shoot things -- a lot. And yet here these guys are saying, even with a game like Black, they need their games to say something - to mean something - or they'll have a hard time developing them (or, at least, thats what I read between the lines). I'd like to buy them both a beer.

The game I'm currently working on has a similar ambition. We want the core experience to stand on its own -- to be fun and sexy and appeal to all levels of our target demographic. But, we also want there to be meat and substance to the story and the meaning of the game -- something that can make the player stop for a second and consider what message they think we are trying to make with a given sequence.

And yet I'm torn. I'm currently playing Okami (yes, only just now) and on the one hand I am loving it (really rewarding gameplay and, of course, a visual aesthetic that screenshots just don't do justice to) but I find myself impatiently trying to skip through the dialogue in order to continue on in the game. As a developer, I want to explore the story Clover developed, but as a gamer I find myself wanting to skip ahead to the next sequence where I get to heal the world. It is difficult to reconcile the two (and no, before you ask, the writing in Okami isn't bad, so I can't lay the blame there).

What are the games that draw you in with the narrative and story and make you stop and think, but still keep you itching to jump back into the action and play all the way through to the end?

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Blogger alimokrane said...

I have been a gamer for about 15 years now and the only games that managed to attract my attention through story are Prince of Persia The Sands of time,Ico and Shadow of the Collossus. Sure none of these games had politicial dilemas or terrorist plots but my god the way they make you care about the characters and story is just unbelievable.
Prince of persis SOT achieved it through a great way of story telling which was hooked so nicely to the gameplay. However what I find most amazing in Ico and Shadow of the Collssus is how it proved that words arent usually necessary to make something great!

These three games are truly masterpieces and works of Art. if ony all games were like this.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Darius Kazemi said...

Well, you shouldn't have to skip the story to get to the game. The story really ought to happen while the game is happening (like in Half-Life and HL2).

11:29 AM  
Blogger kim said...

- Reminds me of Natural Born Killers on one level. In a medium where consumers are desensitized to the violence, does it need to be ridiculously over the top in order to have any shock/repulsion value?

- Agree with Darius' comment

- You should read Raph Kosters' "Is it art" post from a few days back. Interesting in that it looks at the complete other end of the spectrum. A very simple web game with very non-violent content.

10:37 PM  
Blogger Meridian said...

I haven't been playing games in a long time. But the most important aspect of game for me is the storyline... if the story line is good then I love the game. Only two games gave me that feeling. Deus Ex and Half-Life (haven't played HL2 so I cant say anything about it.)

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mr. Mook :)

My favorite games have always been those with strong stories, and just as strong story-telling.

Most of my favorites are role playing games, like the Final Fantasy and Baldur's Gate series... but I've been surprised by a few others- Silent Hill 2 is an older title that I recently picked up, and I absolutely loved it.

Half-Life 2 is another title that has been mentioned. Again, it has a solid story and unfolds smoothly as you play through the game.

These are the sort of games that really hook me in- games that have engaging stories, characters, I can 'connect' to, and of course, fun gameplay. These games are the ones I will go back to, long after I've played through them.


1:55 PM  
Anonymous Clint said...

Ben Ben Ben

You talk as though story and game are different things. As long as you think of them as different, they will be different. Once you find a way to get them into your brain as one big thing, then it's easier (it's still hard though).

I remember someone at Ubi once told me that they really perceived english and french as being one very big language, not two separate ones. It's kinda the same thing.

As for players skipping the story, well, again, once they are the same thing, they won't do that.

I think HL and HL2, while useful to learn from, don't really accomplish this yet. I can walk around inside a real-time cinematic in the 'story' parts, and I can shoot guys or hurl radiators at them in the 'game' parts. But I'm not interacting with the large scale story arc. I'm interacting with the small scale story arc (I ran behind the box and dodged the bullets, then saw a grenade roll toward me as I equipped my grav-gun then quickly pushed it back at the guy who threw it using the grav gun and he blew up'). The large scale story is HL2 is just as non interactive and determininistic as in a film. I have no agency in that arc.

Even if we disallow the player to change the OUTCOME of the story (ie: he's still forced to save city 17 by destroying the big tower thingy), we could at least allow him the ability to interact with the 'why' of these events.

I'm gonna stop before I start rambling.

7:18 PM  

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