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Games are not movies (or books, etc)

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Kylotan

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Here, another poster mistakes games for movies. Nothing against that poster: he's obviously new to things and it's an understandable mistake to make. This is something I used to see a lot of in the Game Design forum, where lots of wannabe film-makers see computer games as essentially being movies, with just a few tiny insignificant differences - such as managing a team of programmers, hardware specifications to meet, performance considerations, control methods and interface design, robustness, etc etc. They want to write a story for the players to enjoy, and the fiddly irrelevant technical stuff can be handled by the programmers. It's not important, anyway. Story is all!

I've been reading a book by fantasy author Terry Brooks called 'Sometimes the Magic Works'. He relates a series of useful hints for authors based on his own experiences, which include writing the tie-in book of the film for 'Hook', and later 'The Phantom Menace'. His experience was that the writing of a book is absolutely nothing like the process of making a movie, and that his expectations as a writer were hopelessly wrong when applied to movie-making. Yet fundamentally, they are both forms of passive, linear, closed-ended entertainment, quite similar when looked at from the outside.

So if those forms can be so different, how can anybody expect to equate movies to games - which are active, and often non-linear and open-ended - and expect to be taken seriously?
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So if those forms can be so different, how can anybody expect to equate movies to games - which are active, and often non-linear and open-ended - and expect to be taken seriously?


I was tempted to say that its a specialisation of the "people are stupid" theory, however a moments more thought gave me something different.

The problem is that, truely, very few games are as you say. Most games have a static story line you follow. Infact, looking at my shelf I can see FPS, RTS and RPG games, all of which have a mission or objectives based system which means you often HAVE todo things in a certain order.

RTS games present you with missions, its rare for a game to let a campain be played in any order you wish.

FPS games generally have a specific goal and the story is split into chapters (HL and HL2 for example), but all the time you are driven down a linear story.

RPGs are one of the few games which aren't totally linear, you often have side quests which can be completed out of order, however there is still a singlar driving story line at their heart.

Looked at in such a manner, I find it easy to see why someone on the outside would view games in much the same way as a film, the only difference being the user interaction is active instead of passive. Both have a driving story line, generally linear and many games (even with sequals) have a story line which can be considered 'closed' at the end of the game.

Infact, the only two games which springs to mind which didn't have a closed story are Dawn Of War and Half-Life, both of which left a large openning for a sequal.

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But the point I was making is that a game is so much more than just the story. Even if the game has a linear story where you progress from Point A to Point B, you're going to be given a degree of freedom to act between those points. The design and the programming has to plan for that. How are the actors controlled and depicted between those points? How do we know when we've reached Point B? How does the game make reaching Point B a challenge? How do we provide a consistently enjoyable experience for the player between Point A and Point B? These are big questions for games, but if you just think of a game as a delivery mechanism for a story you'll fail to answer them. That's why good gameplay + poor or no story = good game, but poor gameplay + good story = poor game.

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Games, for me, have never been movies. I despise the Japanese RPG genre, with its interminable cinema scenes and vapid characters. I'd much rather have a clean CRPG that moves you through a barebones plot the way you decide to, and let you build your character to solve problems in various ways. The enjoyment for games is the journey, not the stupid 15-minute cinema scenes in which whiny antiheroes speak simplistic, poorly translated grade-school English.

Space Invaders is not War and Peace, nor should it ever be. It's a game. You play it to have fun. Cinema scenes are not playing, nor are they fun.

Game developers are shitty story-writers. Most good story-writers are shitty game developers. And never the twain shall meet.

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I enjoy games that are movie-esque. Without a story, then there's no reason for me to play the game. Killing skeletons just to kill them is pointless. The sole reason I kill skeletons is so that I can make the story progress and watch the next custscene or see what happens next. That's why I beat Final Fantasy VII at level 43. [grin] I am constantly progressing into new areas my character is too weak to go and subsequently frustrated when I am thus forced to arbitrarily level up to progress the story.

Brain teaser type games are a little different, since there's usually no story. But there is still a sense of intrigue you feel by conquering a puzzle.

I think declaring no game shall contain excessive cinematics is short-sighted. Different people have different tastes. And thank goodness for that, or else I might forever be doomed to play games like Morrowind and SimCity. [grin] Fortunately for me, the market is saturated with games I like.

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I admit that I do like a good crafted story in a game; even if it is linear; as long as it is integrated well.

But I strongly dislike it when a game tries to use a film style story rather than what I'd call a "game" story. Usual signs of a wanna-be film directory are the 20 minute unskippable cutscene with paper-thin gameplay (i.e. most console RPGs [grin]) that have already been lambasted here.

I find it hard to define what I mean by "game" story, but it usually has the story integrated with the actions of the player, such as in Half-life where control is never taken away, or in System Shock 2 where story progresses based on e-mails or visions of "ghosts". Retaining player interactivity and making sure the game is still a "game" is key. Occasional cutscenes are fine as long as they don't overwhelm and detract from the interactivity.

I guess I don't object to using games to tell a story; I think it can be done quite well; but not when its done by twisting the medium into something its not. You just end up with both a crap game pretending to be a crap film [smile].

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