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Nothing wrong with a good story.


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#1 Shinkage   Members   -  Reputation: 595

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Posted 12 September 2000 - 03:45 PM

This post is for all those championing the battle against story driven games. I just have one question--why?

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#2 Landfish   Members   -  Reputation: 288

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Posted 12 September 2000 - 03:57 PM

Panzer Dragoon Saga.

If every RPG story could be so good, I would actually play the f*cking things.

#3 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 12 September 2000 - 11:33 PM

Dunno if I''d be counted as championing against, but I''d have to say this: When I sit down and play, I want freedom, and I want my actions to make a difference. I really hate it when I play a game a ton of different ways, but the storyline grabs me by the back of the neck and shoves me along a path whether I like it or not (I don''t need that, heck I can get plenty of that in the real world )

I have no problem with stories in games per se. In fact, they flesh out and enrich the environment, and give me good motivation for what I''m doing. I''m fine with them, as long as I''m not held to them. But there''s an obvious problem with this, and that is, if I break from your story, what are you going to give me to do? There are some pretty severe technology problems that prevent this kind of freedom (the n(n^2) branching problem) as well as story structure problems (it''s hard to make a tale end well a bazillion different ways).

So as support and background material, stories in games are great. In my case, though, please don''t let them get in the way of gameplay. (Obviously, I''m not an adventure gamer or Squaresoft fan)

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#4 Ingenu   Members   -  Reputation: 932

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 01:12 AM

I agree with Wavinator.

BTW Wavinator : how about a game divided in chapters with each chpater having between 2 to 4 endings ?
Will that make you happy ?
Chapters endings and action will make some change in the NPC you met...

But you cannot alter the storyline much.

Is it ok for you and do you understand what I mean ?

-* So many things to do, so little time to spend. *-

#5 Landfish   Members   -  Reputation: 288

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 02:13 AM

A really well done Linear game (like the one above) gives you immense freedom of action, but very little ability to change the plot or character. But the game announces this to you, it draws very clear lines between you and the game, because immersiveness was not a goal of the creators. Ironically, the game was a lot more immersive than some others that try to be.

When it comes down to it, as different types of games arise in the next decade, we will refine them to two titles. Linear and Divergent Narrative. (interactive is a buzzword, so I don''t want this to be dated...)

#6 Shinkage   Members   -  Reputation: 595

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 06:24 AM

quote:
Original post by Wavinator

When I sit down and play, I want freedom, and I want my actions to make a difference.


Why? What is inherently more fun about this than being pulled through an engaging narriative?

quote:
Original post by Landfish

When it comes down to it, as different types of games arise in the next decade, we will refine them to two titles. Linear and Divergent Narrative.


Correct me if I'm wrong but wouldn't the term "Narrative" imply that this sort of game is story driven as well? It seems to me the debate here is as to what kind of story drives the game, not whether the game has a story at all.

Edited by - Shinkage on September 13, 2000 1:28:31 PM

#7 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 10:34 AM

quote:
Original post by Shinkage


Why? What is inherently more fun about this than being pulled through an engaging narriative?




Right now, my favorite author is Dan Simmons, who wrote the excellent and sometimes heartwrenching Hyperion series. Orson Scott Card and Salaman Rushdie are also favorites. These professional authors give me, in a book, more intellectual and emotional content than I have ever seen in any game.

It''s not that a computer can''t deliver up the same content. But right now a book is in so many ways superior. It''s portable, easy on the eyes, and feels good to hold. In short, if I wanted an engaging narrative, I''d read a book.

When I''m on the computer, it almost *insults* me to be told to sit still, shut up, and make no impact. *I* am the "protagonist!" I want to have a say in my experience. When I play, I want to do something. Doing, or action (aka gameplay) is the heart and soul of play. Now the computer, because it has a processor which can handle decision making, calculation, and input, is a tool well given to interactive play.

It would seem to me that if a person does not want to use these features, they should be in a different medium altogether. The strengths of the medium should support what they''re trying to do. For instance, I wouldn''t try to impose a system of inventory management on a movie. Nor would I try to make a movie a "multiplayer" experience. The medium''s strengths do not lie there, and I believe in using a medium''s strength''s to the hilt.

This isn''t to say that there shouldn''t be hybrids. In fact, stories in games are already a form of hybridization. You play a bit of game, you watch a bit of story. This doesn''t suit me all that well, but other people love it.



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#8 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 10:38 AM

quote:
Original post by Ingenu

I agree with Wavinator.

BTW Wavinator : how about a game divided in chapters with each chpater having between 2 to 4 endings ?
Will that make you happy ?
Chapters endings and action will make some change in the NPC you met...

But you cannot alter the storyline much.

Is it ok for you and do you understand what I mean ?




I think I follow you, and this is certainly better than strict linearity in a game. What really impacts this, of course, is replayability. If we want to fully blend these two mediums (gameplay and narrative) we need to figure out how to make stories replayable.

This is no easy task. A story is *excellent* because the author was insightful enough to structure things just so. If it would have happened any other way, it wouldn''t have made the same impact. (e.g., Othello kills Iago; MacBeth''s murder plot is uncovered in advance; Vader turns out to be Han Solo''s, or Lando Calrissian''s father... these probably make the stories into "so what" experiences)



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#9 pacman   Members   -  Reputation: 122

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 11:00 AM

Wavy, I hear you loud and clear. That was the only problem I had in the single player game of Vampire: no matter what I picked to say, the same thing happend, but I might gain/loose humanity. That sucks. But I think there is a way to have both a good story and "divergent narrative". In fact, I know there is a way.

Idea: what about skipping certain parts of the game (mutually exclusive events, eh Landfish?) depending on what you say/do? Would that make things better? Storied _can_ change and still be good.

Ex: would it have made that much of difference if Luke ended up helping Darth Vader kill the Emporer? Vader would have still been bought to the light, but the story would have ended by different means. Remember, changes don''t have to be so extreame that the entire plot must change with them.

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"What's the story with your face, son?!?"

#10 Shinkage   Members   -  Reputation: 595

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 11:02 AM

Wavinator, you speak much of "should" and hypotheticals, but my question is, WHAT would be more inherently fun about completely non-linear games. I''ll sum up what I think about the matter:

It''s naive to say that non-linear games are in any way intrinsically superior to linear ones. It depends WHOLELY and ENTIRELY on the production qualities of any particular product. What I see here is a lot of misdirected anger, or perhaps more accurately frustration, at the current state of computer games in general. What''s wrong with games is not so much that they are linear and "not taking advantage" of the "strengths" of the computerized medium. That''s all just so many words. What''s wrong with them is that their central aspect--the story--is generally severely underdeveloped and trite, if not downright cliched.

#11 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 13 September 2000 - 08:30 PM

quote:
Original post by Shinkage

Wavinator, you speak much of "should" and hypotheticals, but my question is, WHAT would be more inherently fun about completely non-linear games.



Meaningful decisions. That's the short answer.

But before I go further, I have to ask:
Do you agree that your actions in a game should be meaningful?
Do you agree that game activities should be challenging?

If not, we don't agree on the definition of what a game is.

But if so, a high degree of nonlinearity in a game presents you with a few nearly overwhelming problems: Either the choices you give the player are ultimately trivial and meaningless (because you must hew to the narrative), or you must branch the story in dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of different ways to support each player decision.

Meaningful decisions are the essence of what a game is. If there are no decisions, or all decisions are trivial (lead down the same path), then you are playing something that is a game in title only.

quote:

It's naive to say that non-linear games are in any way intrinsically superior to linear ones. It depends WHOLELY and ENTIRELY on the production qualities of any particular product.



Maybe. However, I take a page from the FMV disasters of the early 90s. I also take a look at the relative weakness of the adventure game market in reference to, say, the strategy or action game market. This is saying something significant. I believe this speaks to the problem of "story" getting in the way of "game."

And again, why bother with something on the CPU if you're not going to make use of the CPU's capabilities? It would be like choosing not to use focus in a movie.

quote:

What I see here is a lot of misdirected anger,



Nah. Start praising marketing. Then you'll see misdirected anger.

quote:

or perhaps more accurately frustration,



That's it.

quote:

at the current state of computer games in general.



No, that's not correct as far as what we're discussing. My frustration stems from playing games whose creators have obviously failed to understand the importance of meaningful decisions. Because of a focus on strict narrative as a substitute for gameplay, they serve up gaming that is no more than an annoying, pointless repeat-and-try/die experience. As with platform games, this may be fine with young players, but it is an egregious disservice to older players seeking more depth.


quote:

What's wrong with games is not so much that they are linear and "not taking advantage" of the "strengths" of the computerized medium. That's all just so many words.



I don't think so. When we're talking about the nature of a thing, and what it can be used for, it's important to understand it's strengths and weaknesses. What's the use of having a CPU? What's it for? In terms of storytelling, what are it's limitations?

More importantly, if you want authorial control and a high degree of linearity, why not write a novel, or make a movie? Why put it into code and call it a game?

quote:

What's wrong with them is that their central aspect--the story--is generally severely underdeveloped and trite, if not downright cliched.


Again, as noted above, the real problem isn't poor quality (though that *is* a big problem), but rather lack of freedom. Freedom is the soul of decision making. Decision making is the soul of gameplay. Gameplay is the soul of what a game is (or, in my never to be so humble opinion, should be).

(Once again, I want to say I don't think you shouldn't have stories, I just think stories should not supercede gameplay.)

In studying this, BTW, you may find these links useful:

Chris Crawford talks about what a game is and is nothere

Greg Costikyan does the same here

Ernest Adams talks about the problems of story, nonlinearity and adventure gameshere

And Warren Spector discusses RPG stories here

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Edited by - wavinator on September 14, 2000 3:33:40 AM

#12 Shinkage   Members   -  Reputation: 595

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Posted 14 September 2000 - 07:54 AM

Forgive me for seeming abrasive in the manner in which I say this, I do not mean to insult, but from my point of view you are categorically wrong about what games are and what they should be. But allow me to articulate my position. I must make special note that I am not intending to flame you, as it were. I am attempting to provide throughtful insights into an alternate perspective on the matter.

Game--look it up in the dictionary and you find a very simple definition. Something along the lines of "an activity providing entertainment or amusement." It is simply incorrect to assume a game as to meet any criteria other than to provide entertainment or amusement. Does an activity have to be meaningful in order to be entertaining? Of course not. I will agree that games do need to be challenging in some way or another in order to be entertaining.

You deny that you are frustrated at the current state of the gaming industry, but from what you say that seems to be precisely the case. You, I, and everyone else who plays games are obviously not happy with what is being spewed out of the gaming industry these days. Are games bad these days because they center around a linear plot? Absolutely not! They are bad because they center around an EGRESIOUSLY BAD plot, if one at all.

Throughout this post you have been speeking in very hopothetical conjectures about what "should" be done with the computerized medium for games. What you have not produced, as far as I can tell, are any quantitative explanation WHY what you say "should" happen.

quote:
Original post by Wavinator

Do you agree that your actions in a game should be meaningful?


No, I disagree. There is no reason that games "should" be meaningful. There is no overriding law that states that meaningful games are in any way more entertaining that meaningless ones. I will, however, agree that meaningfull games could have potential in terms of entertainment.

What I don''t see is how you can purvey any kind of meaning without a very strong plot. Meaningless interactions with virtual bits and bytes are not in any way meaningful. Conveying ideas, principles, and conjectures about the nature of people, the world, the universe, and other such things. That is meaningful. And that can also NOT be done without a plot.

quote:
Original post by Wavinator

Do you agree that game activities should be challenging?


Yes. Please demonstrate to me any concrete connection between a game''s level of challenge and degree of linearity.

Finally, let me say that I disagree that it is in any way necessary to "fully" utilize the medium in which you are working. The most simple things can be as profound and beautiful as the most complex

#13 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 14 September 2000 - 10:06 AM

quote:
Original post by Shinkage

Forgive me for seeming abrasive in the manner in which I say this, I do not mean to insult,



No prob, it''s good to have an intense discussion. We do not see eye as far as what a game is and is not. (But at least we can be civil about it )

quote:

but from my point of view you are categorically wrong about what games are and what they should be. But allow me to articulate my position. I must make special note that I am not intending to flame you, as it were. I am attempting to provide throughtful insights into an alternate perspective on the matter.



Gotcha. This is necessary for our medium to grow, so good.

quote:

Game--look it up in the dictionary and you find a very simple definition. Something along the lines of "an activity providing entertainment or amusement."



Well, yes, there''s that, then there''s:

"3 a (1) : a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other" and "(2) : any activity undertaken or regarded as a contest involving rivalry, strategy, or struggle"

Regretfully, there''s no formal definition of a computer game unless you accept the definitions provided by some of the tribal elders in our field. Did you check the links?

quote:

It is simply incorrect to assume a game as to meet any criteria other than to provide entertainment or amusement. Does an activity have to be meaningful in order to be entertaining?



Let''s play a game. We''re at the end of a deep, entertaining, heart wrenching story involving an evil king and a son who opposes him. You''re the son.

Your end game choices: A) Kill your father; B) Imprison your father C) Run away from your father D) Reconcile with your father

Pick one.

The result? You die. It''s sad, it''s tragic, it''s poetic art, but you still die. No matter what you do, you die.

This is what is meant by meaninglessness. Seriously, check out those links.

quote:

I will agree that games do need to be challenging in some way or another in order to be entertaining.



Okay, I can work from this. What is a challenge made of?

Dictionary-wise, I think the definition that applies to us is:

"6 : to arouse or stimulate especially by presenting with difficulties"

What do you do when presented with a difficulty? You make a choice, right? Now, you probably don''t want to make the same choice very time. You probably don''t want to have only one choice to make every time, either. So you want many choices. Many choices makes the experience richer. You don''t know what you''re getting each time.

Are we on the same page so far?

quote:

You deny that you are frustrated at the current state of the gaming industry, but from what you say that seems to be precisely the case. You, I, and everyone else who plays games are obviously not happy with what is being spewed out of the gaming industry these days.



Okay, I know the name is "Shrinkage", but lemme save the psychoanalysis for my shrink, if you don''t mind. I make games because I want to express something. I''d still make games even if the industry was perfect.

quote:

Are games bad these days because they center around a linear plot? Absolutely not! They are bad because they center around an EGRESIOUSLY BAD plot, if one at all.



There seems to be no resolving our difference in opinion here. I think if the case were as you say, we''d see a linear games dominating the market. They do not. We''d see a great influx of linear talent. We have not. We''d see Hollywood indie and big studio folks taking over gaming, like they promised to do in the early 90s. They have not.

It is still my contention that this is so because developers who have failed to appreciate the importance of meaningful choice have not been successful because they can not be within the constraints of what a game is. They can probably excel in the sim or toy or multimedia areas, but so far they''ve mostly flopped there as well.

quote:

Throughout this post you have been speeking in very hopothetical conjectures about what "should" be done with the computerized medium for games.


I think this is unfair and inaccurate. I''ve sited several specific examples. Can you address those specifically?

quote:

What you have not produced, as far as I can tell, are any quantitative explanation WHY what you say "should" happen.



Either our perspectives can not be resolved because they are fundamentally juxtaposed, or I''m can''t figure out how the hell to explain myself better. I''m starting to suspect the former.

quote:

No, I disagree. There is no reason that games "should" be meaningful. There is no overriding law that states that meaningful games are in any way more entertaining that meaningless ones. I will, however, agree that meaningfull games could have potential in terms of entertainment.



You''ve conflated "meaningful games" with "meaningful decisions." Meaningful games are a different thing altogether. I''m talking about your actions meaning something in the context of a game. That is, they somehow change the game. The two are not the same.

quote:

What I don''t see is how you can purvey any kind of meaning without a very strong plot.



As I''ve said before, in some cases plot gives you context and motive for what you do. It also makes it substantial. It is not, however, the only mechanism for this. Loss, economics, death, change, growth, discovery... these can be just as strong as plot, or there would otherwise be no plot-less games.

quote:

Meaningless interactions with virtual bits and bytes are not in any way meaningful. Conveying ideas, principles, and conjectures about the nature of people, the world, the universe, and other such things. That is meaningful. And that can also NOT be done without a plot.



In your case, this may be true. It is not true for me or the gaming community as a whole. Evidence: The popularity of plotfree games (Quake, Tetris, Minesweeper) and plotfree modes of gameplay (multiplayer deathmatch, multiplayer co-op).

quote:

Please demonstrate to me any concrete connection between a game''s level of challenge and degree of linearity.


Noted above. If you disagree, please break down the anatomy of what a challenge is and how it is overcome.

quote:

Finally, let me say that I disagree that it is in any way necessary to "fully" utilize the medium in which you are working. The most simple things can be as profound and beautiful as the most complex


Hmmmm... I think were in the rarified territory of "art," which leaves me with a vague, queasy feeling due to the non-definable, squishy nature of it.

To cut to the chase, how would you design a game? What would I be able to do in your game? What impact would I make? How would your views of story impact my experience. Even a short outline would make this conversation a bit more concrete.

A final note: Pls. don''t be offended by what I''m saying. I actually believe that the greatest revelations often come from intense disagreement, which is _why_ I''m sticking with this conversation. You see things in a way that''s alien to me, and I highly value alternate perspectives because they teach me something new.

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#14 Shinkage   Members   -  Reputation: 595

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Posted 15 September 2000 - 03:03 PM

If I were to make my ideal game, it would be an RPG that played out like a really well written sci-fi book. Only catch? It would be a divergent story line--one that would be affected by the player''s actions within the world. Most importantly though, no matter which path the player took through the game, it would ALWAYS play out like a well written book. The plot may be different between different paths, but there would always be a cohesive and compelling plot. How would I do this? Honestly I have no idea.

#15 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 05:50 AM

Darn it, Shrinkage, I''m disappointed! I expected the next round to be Battle Royale! Could it be that you have better things to do than spend most of your life posting on this board?

Did you check any of those links, btw? I''d at least like to understand how you''d set up a challenge in the context of your game.



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#16 Shinkage   Members   -  Reputation: 595

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Posted 16 September 2000 - 01:31 PM

A battle royale? Thems sounds like fighting words! Oh, you''ve said the words--laid down the gauntlets!

Here I will reiterate what I feel to be my most important points.

1. Games such as Quake, Tetris, and any other of the examples you may have given for popular story-less games, are devoid of meaning in any sense of the word. In a word where everything is determined by the course of your actions, those actions, by definition, have absolutely no meaning! Only a broader context in which your actions have an effect can give those actions any meaning. Otherwise it''s just pushing pixels around.

2. You have yet, at least in my eyes, failed to demonstrate a concrete connection between complete non-linearity and fun. There are just as many fun linear games as fun non-linear ones, so example will do you no good! And saying you "want" a game to behave in a certain manner is no good with me either! WHY, WHY, WHY?

Whew, I''m all worked up now...

#17 Landfish   Members   -  Reputation: 288

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Posted 17 September 2000 - 03:38 AM

As unpopular as this statement is... Quake had a story. It had a level structure. Hell, even Quake 3 has a story, theoretically.

They''re just about as deep as a wading pool is all.

#18 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 18 September 2000 - 09:33 AM

quote:
Original post by Shinkage

If I were to make my ideal game, it would be an RPG that played out like a really well written sci-fi book. Only catch? It would be a divergent story line--one that would be affected by the player''s actions within the world. Most importantly though, no matter which path the player took through the game, it would ALWAYS play out like a well written book. The plot may be different between different paths, but there would always be a cohesive and compelling plot. How would I do this? Honestly I have no idea.


A laudable goal, but I think this is the heart of our problem in terms of understanding. How many paths thru the story would you provide? Two? Three? Forty? Five hundred?

This is the classic plot branching problem that has so far stymied the potential of interactive stories. You get one of two choices: a certain level of meaningless choice in the game because you can''t branch the plot, or comparatively (with other games) severe restrictions on player choice because you have to hew to narrative.

My research shows me that this problem isn''t going to be solved pretty soon. Something to think about.


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#19 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 18 September 2000 - 10:17 AM

quote:
Original post by Shinkage

Here I will reiterate what I feel to be my most important points.

1. Games such as Quake, Tetris, and any other of the examples you may have given for popular story-less games, are devoid of meaning in any sense of the word. In a word where everything is determined by the course of your actions, those actions, by definition, have absolutely no meaning! Only a broader context in which your actions have an effect can give those actions any meaning. Otherwise it''s just pushing pixels around.



How can you say this? This is completely illogical. Every choice you make in these story-less games changes the game. Therefore they are meaningful within the context of the game as a system.

Now, as I noted above, if you''re talking about some grand scale, fru fru art thing, we have a different discussion on our hands. Meaningless, in that case, applies to anything in the computer game area (believe me, we''re making very little impact in the big picture).


quote:

2. You have yet, at least in my eyes, failed to demonstrate a concrete connection between complete non-linearity and fun. There are just as many fun linear games as fun non-linear ones, so example will do you no good! And saying you "want" a game to behave in a certain manner is no good with me either! WHY, WHY, WHY?



In my first reply to you I agreed that there was nothing wrong with a good story, as long as it didn''t get in the way of gameplay. It''s not a case of being more fun. If story supports and enriches gameplay, motivates actions and gives decisions greater impact, I''m all for it.

However, when story strangles gameplay, I have a problem. When the player''s choices are invalidated by the storyline, I think this is seriously flawed game design.

I side with Chris Crawford and Greg Costikyan here: Games are not stories. Games are not puzzles. Completely non-linear play is not a game. You can have game elements in a story, but if they make no impact on the story then they are either meaningless, or a seperate experience. (My point is supported by those !%@$! links! Did you check any of them????)

Here''s the crux of our difference: You seem to have no problem with a game that would play like a David Brin or Ian Banks novel but as a result give you little say in guiding your experience. This to me would be anathema. Without substantial choice, this would not be a game, and shouldn''t bother to call itself such. Electronic story with ocassional mouse clicking would be more appropriate.

Finally, I''ll charge you with answering the reverse of #2: Don''t rely on slippery, entirely subjective notions of what is and is not fun. What''s fun about taking away choice from the player in a game? (I suspect it''s more fun for the writer than it is for the player, btw.)

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#20 Wavinator   Moderators   -  Reputation: 1825

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Posted 18 September 2000 - 10:22 AM

quote:
Original post by Landfish

As unpopular as this statement is... Quake had a story. It had a level structure. Hell, even Quake 3 has a story, theoretically.

They''re just about as deep as a wading pool is all.



Uhhhh... Wait a minute. Are you saying that level structure == story?!?!?

Or are you talking about backstory / setup?

If the former, then yes, you can technically call any randomly connected series of actions a tale. I got up this morning, took a shower, and drove to work. This is a story.

But for the purposes of what we''re talking about, I don''t think this cuts it.

If you''re talking about the latter, then what would be Q3A''s story? Or minesweeper''s, for that matter? Or Tetris?

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