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superpig

How to tell the story?

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OK, so you''ve got this great story for your game. But how do you get it in there? After a recent discussion on cutscenes, here''s what I thought of:
  • Non-interactive cutscene - the ''traditional'' approach. The game tells, the player listens. Being able to press escape to skip it doesn''t count as ''interactive.''
  • Semi-interactive cutscene - like those in HL. The player can possibly move around, or choose what they say; but ultimately it follows a predetermined course to ensure they get the ''key plot elements.''
  • Fully interactive cutscene - the player can gun down the genious nuclear scientist as he''s about to shut down the reactor core and save the world. The cutscene is still triggered - by walking into a specific area, or a specific time limit, or whatever.
  • The passive approach - like in much of Marathon. The story is there, but the player has to ''look for it'' - reading notices on the walls, computer terminals, just being attentive and aware of the game world.
I''m thinking I missed a few. There''s gotta be more than 4 ways to tell stories in games. Superpig - saving pigs from untimely fates, and when he''s not doing that, runs The Binary Refinery.

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I''d vote on Passive and Semi-Interactive.

However, on the issue of semi-interactive, having text-boxes where the plot doesn''t advance until the player presses some button has about the same effect. What I suggest doing is have the box fit so many lines of text, and have the text gradually scroll away when new text shows up, and have whatever button advances the text also speed it up. It may not seem like it, but this gives the player control over the length of the cutscreen (to an extent).

As for passive, that''s an excellent approach for hiding backstory in a game, like historical notes and stuff.

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It depends on the style of storytelling you want to convey, much like an action-adventure that has strong elements of comedy or instead takes the macho power approach.

Come up with a story, and do whatever feels right, or go down the list of what you provided, imagine how it would appear in each, and pick the one you like.

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Passive certainly lets you have some fun playing the game. You can look around for extra stuff that may not be necessary to understand the game, but sure makes it more interesting. There''s a computer terminal over in the corner? Turn it on! Read some log excerpts from the recently deceased technician. Actually, Last Rose in a Desert Garden was quite interesting in this aspect - it let you click on things (say, a burned up sat dish) and it would give your character''s comments on it (gee, how sad, just another relic of a forgotten time, or something like that) and you could read through the history on the computers (scientists - nuclear? - living out a nuclear war underground, eventually all killed by marine commander). An interesting way to play a game.

However, for the ''main'' story, I wouldn''t think passive would be such a great idea. You''re too likely to miss something important if you just run past a wall or notebook. And I really get tired of non-interactive cut-scenes, even if they''re cool (Halo) just because you can''t DO anything! You have to keep me involved and active, even if its just scrolling through text or moving around.

-geo
red eye is coming back (the old site is still around, albeit in a weird transitional form)

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quote:
Original post by Avatar God
However, for the ''main'' story, I wouldn''t think passive would be such a great idea. You''re too likely to miss something important if you just run past a wall or notebook.


But let''s assume, for a moment, that the player is *trying* to play the game and investigate the story. Provided it''s not too obscure, perhaps we should let them miss things? OK, so that possibly means they can''t make sense of something later on; but if you stop paying attention in the middle of a movie, you''ve nobody to blame but yourself...

Surely there must be ways other than the four I''ve already described?

How''s this - you''re in a conversation with an NPC, and you can walk away. However, if you do, the NPC shouts ''hey, get back here!'' and if you get too far away, stops talking. When you return, he goes ''Oh, there you are,'' and continues from his latest sentence. That would be semi-passive, or something?

Superpig
- saving pigs from untimely fates, and when he''s not doing that, runs The Binary Refinery.

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These are the methods that I''ve come up with for relaying the story to the player. Most everything here can be lumped under the passive approach.

Speech: Characters can speak it. Be they NPCs, or playable characters, perhaps they could say something that reveals the information that the player needs to know.

Thoughts: The avatar (or anyone else whose thoughts the audience is privy to) could think it.

Written material: the avatar reads a sign, a book, something from a computer, etc.

The Environment: if the player needs to know that a village has been burned, he can see it on fire, or see the ashes after the fire is out.

Events: this actually covers superpig''s non-interactive, semi-interactive, and fully-interactive cut-scene methods. Events can occur while the player is in control, or watching passively.

Avatar Actions: The in-game actions that the player takes can be informative.

If the action stems from character motivation, it characterizes.

If an action is required by the game, that action and the information we learn from it seem important. For example, say that the avatar has to help a border village set up a barricade against an advancing army from the neighboring nation. This tells us that a war is starting, and hints at the intentions of the neighboring nation. And if these points relate to the story, we have learned about the story.

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I like both these ideas (superpig, zennith)...

If the whole game was geared like that (passive, semi) then, well, I think I would love the game. Actually, if it was done even somewhat well, I _know_ I would love it.

So... unfortunately I can''t think of any specific examples right now, so I''ll get to that sometime...


-geo
red eye is coming back (the old site is still around, albeit in a weird transitional form)

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I think if you have a complete, highly detailed narrative treatment of the story, where and how best to bring it into the game will jump out at you. I usually draw a big chart on 24" X 36" newsprint with the three act structure as the top bottom line, the sequences within each act as the next line up, the scenes within each sequence next up, and the shots or SPFX I feel I have to have or are essential eye candy or are important exposition points or features next, the point of no return up one more, the climax/anticlimax sequence up one more, and the obligatory protagonist/antagonist meeting scene next, and the denoument at the very top.

Then, I make to the same scale another sheet with the game levels progressing from left to right. Even if you have branching levels that loop back to someplace else or even to another level, that still counts as time and space continuum because of the link they share in spacetime.

Then, I start cutting and pasting, and see if the parts of the story I want to have exposited will work in this level or that one best, and what would be the best method of exposition to choose, object, action, dialogue, conversation, observation, reaction, etc.

The flow and type of exposition that pleases me is the one I put together. I often leave it up on the wall for a time to make sure I just wasn''t trying to please myself only, and will it work best for the player''s comprehension, an objective individual''s interpretation, and so forth.

Soon, the right balance and combinations will work themselves out.

Adventuredesign

-saving superpigs from untimely story point expositions

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quote:
Original post by adventuredesign
-saving superpigs from untimely story point expositions


LMAO.

I absolutely agree with the idea that a well-thought-out plot should present itself in obvious ways. However, that''s not really what I''m wondering about.

Consider it like this: we, as storytellers, have various tools - within the medium of gaming - that we can use to achieve our goals; much like the various brushes and paints a painter has to hand. Rather than asking which tool should be used when, I''m just asking about what we actually have available as storytelling tools, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Zennith, concerning the player''s thoughts - what would you suggest as the best way of bringing *those* out? Problem is, if the ''player character'' isn''t thinking the same thing as the player themself, then drawing attention to that difference can severly shatter the player''s identification with their character...

After all, in something like Half-Life, isn''t Gordon Freeman just a convenient name for the representation of the human player within the game world? As such, it''s not an independent entity; it can''t have it''s own thoughts. Can it?



Superpig
- saving pigs from untimely fates, and when he''s not doing that, runs The Binary Refinery.

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quote:
Original post by superpig
After all, in something like Half-Life, isn''t Gordon Freeman just a convenient name for the representation of the human player within the game world? As such, it''s not an independent entity; it can''t have it''s own thoughts. Can it?




I think it depends on how much of a personality the playable character has, and how independant that is from the players personality.(I can''t speak for Half-Life, because I''ve never played it.) In some games, the playable character is more than an extension of the player. Sometimes he he has his own goals and motivations. But sometimes the playable character is just there to represent the player, and nothing more.

You bring up a good point when you say that if the thoughts of the playable character does not match the thoughts of the player, it can be damaging. I argue that it is damaging only if the playable character is supposed to be an extension of the player - if I''m supposed to pretend that the playable character is me, he or she had better not be someone else. And if he or she has his or her own thoughts, it is a reminder that he or she is someone else.

But it doesn''t bother me if the playable character is supposed to be his or her own person. In that case, I expect his or her thoughts to be different from mine.

As to how to get the thoughts across...
If the playable character is nothing but a representation of the player, I do not think that he should have his own thoughts. Frankly, it would seem superficial to me. (He''s had no reason to think before, just been there for me to move him around, then all of a sudden a thought comes from him?) There may be games out there that prove me wrong, but I have not met them yet.
But if you did want this type of character to think, there is the problem with character identification. There is always the chance that the player will be thinking something different than the words that come up in the thought bubble. You could guess what the player would think, even try to guide him or her to think that...But that doesn''t solve this problem completely.

Here''s a question - how do we make thoughts different from words that are spoken out loud? Some games put thoughts in parentheses or brackets. If it''s clear that this means ''thoughts'' then it''s enough for me. But does anyone else have comments about this?

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