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Momento style storytelling in videogames...

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Ok this is just a thought that popped into my head, what would you think about a game that had a storytelling style like Momento? If you havent seen Momento, the story literally goes backwards scene by scene.How could it be adapted to gameplay? What might be some ways to change things in gameplay this way? Lets try to just play around with the idea, since this is a new way of storytelling try to avoid applying the prejudices developed from playing/writing games and come up with something truly original.

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In my opinion, something like this would have to be mostly story-driven because shooting/fighting most of the time would detract from the story. You'd have to have lots of cut-scenes where something happens to the player and the player gets just way confused (because they don't know the whole story yet), then slowly as they progress (backwards) in the game, they learn why they were in that particular situation, how they got there, or why someone said <this>, and so on.

For example: the opening scene could be the main character crying as he clutches his dead wife or son in an alley. Then he could say something like, "Why didn't you tell me? WHY?!"

So basically, you'd have something confusing at the beginning that would compel the player to continue in order to find out what his wife/son didn't tell him. Like I said, this would involve many cut-scenes with story/dialogue, but of course you can also throw in some third-person shooting or whatever (but only a little).

You'd also have to have a lot of captions that say: "Two weeks earlier", "5 hours ago", "1 year before now", etc. so the player can keep track of the time-frame.

If you have a good story that doesn't make any sense until the player gets to the end of the game, where they then see the initial event that set things in motion, then this game would work.

Hope that helps.

[edited by - omega147 on November 12, 2003 10:28:58 AM]

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Yes i agree with what you are saying, so it could get somewhat confusing. There would have to be alot of story moments like you said so i think this would be perfect for a point and click Adventure game that has died off in the recent years. (grim fandango foreva!!11!)

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The great limitation on such a game is the absolute need for a concrete story from beginning to end. Determinism on that scale can be a little tiresome for a player. Memento benefitted from novelty and a pretty good story, and while the story was being told we were gaining access to character profiles. The whole point of Memento was to find the "why" as opposed to the "what". In this day and age, players like very much to have at least the illusion of choice in games, and "backwards" storytelling kills that. It has potential, if the writing is good, but it''ll be more story than game.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Another thing is, the story must have an unexpected... beginning. Otherwise, it would be too predictable what triggered the events you''ve already seen and wouldn''t be much fun. But that can become hard to do - write a story backwards with an unexpected beginning, though I think if done right would be a killer concept.

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I think the best way to actually write this kind of story would be to write a story (normally, beginning to end) with a surprise ending. However, you would make the beginning rather unusual. Then you simply tell it backwards

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I agree with SnakeHunta. Most every story has something at the beginning that explains or leads to something in the end. So if you just do practically any story and tell it backwards, it would work.

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Plus it''s hard to make the player forget things. ;D

But on the storytelling side, it depends on How you tell the story. All this talk reminded me of Max Payne 2. But you know, the funny thing about that game is that I found the action parts boring and I just wanted to see what happens next. Like in a movie.

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Thanks for all of the input guys. Ill go about writing it and see what i can come up with. I think it would be intresting to have more than one beginning, that sounds kind of complicated but hear me out. For example, lets just say the guy in our game has the same problem with remembering things as the guy in momento does.
We could stick him in a very open situation,like for example his wife being killed. Maybe his best friend killed her, maybe it was a accident or maybe he himself killed her. All you know is that she died, and maybe you are given a certain amount of leads that hints at who it is,but the outcome is still the same. The only thing that changes is the events leading to the ending. But then again it would kind of defeat the purpose of having the ending first, eh not so easy thinking backwards. What do you guys think?

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It doesn''t have to depend on memory issues. One way I envision such a project working out would be a series of prequels. You get the dead bad guy at the end, naturally, but it''s the first level, so you start up the game and you''re standing in the guy''s castle, everyone else is dead, and you''re toe-to-toe with jerk-face. A few witticisms are exchanged, and the fight is on. It''s actually a pretty easy fight, since it''s the first level, and when it''s done your guy says something corny like, "My people... you are avenged."

Level 2 is in the castle, with hordes of baddies getting acquainted with your axe. You fight through the whole place, and wind up toe-to-toe with the bad guy. Pleasantries exchanged, end of level.

And then you start level 3, which is set about a week earlier, and you''re in a town full of zombies. you chop and hack your way through them, and at the end you see a particularly freaky zombie. Your character reacts unusually to this one, but you chop it to death anyway. As it''s twitching slows and the pool of black blood spreads around it, your guy drops to his knees and weeps uncontrollably, promising vengeance for this evil.

Level 4 is the day before that. You are with a cute girl (who looks uncannily like that last zombie from level 3... hmm...) and having a good time, but then you are attacked by the bad guy, who turns out to be some kind of evil necromancer, and since you recognize him as a bad guy, you take a shot at him. He retaliates by zombifying everyone in your village, especially your lady friend, and you get out your axe and get ready for violence.

Now, that''s four levels, pretty simple, just to give you an idea of what I mean. You could even have level 2 be the first level, and after you meet bad guy, your character says, "Now, Necrodude666, I will exact my vengeance for your terrible crimes against my people!!!" and it flashes back to the zombie level right there. So that after you meet Necrodude666 in the earliest installment, it flashes back to the future, where the boss fight takes place.

Again, I''m just showcasing the potential of the writing style. Meeting your character as a man who has already been through a crucible of suffering, not really understnding why he''s fighting, and learning about it as the game progresses is a good feature. Also, there''s that "Holy crap!" moment when you realize that the boss of the last level was your old girlfriend. The character knows it, but the player doesn''t. It kills a little of the immersion, but it''s a really neat storytelling technique.

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I like the idea, but I think it would be cool to start, maybe at a key point in the middle, work your way back, and then work forward from there. That way you get the work backwards feel, but later on you end up going forwards, keeping that story telling element in there. In fact, you could have him going forwards and backwards at the same time, having the player see the vilain for the first time going forward, right before or after seeing him going backward. This style can be used to create increadible suspense and intrigue if used correctly, but the forward element in story telling is so important, at least to me, that a game without it might just seem to be missing something. Of course, Time Splitters has no real story, and it was still fun, but I think an important part of the gaming experience is getting the player immersed, and without a strong, forward moving, flowing plot, it is hard to become involved in the game.

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Good thinking, RichardMV. Even Memento had a dual timeline, with the series of flashbacks and then the one forward day in black and white. That deserves investigation.

Or on a tangent, perhaps your character DOES have amnesia, but not the crazy Memento kind, just straight-up amnesia. You could start on a bathroom floor someplace, or in a motel or something, and just start slogging through the game. Every once in a while, you''d "see" something that triggers a memory, but you determine the memorythrough playing.

For instance, you wake up in a house, which may or may not be yours, and look around for people. You find yourself in the attic, and come across an old wooden chest. It''s familiar, but you aren''t sure why... FLASHBACK! The next level starts you off years ago when you were living in this house with people, but you can''t see the people, just fuzzy shapes. You play through the level, which could be grainy or whatever for style, and at the end, depending on your choices in that sub-level, your character puts something into the chest. It might be a photo album, it might be a shotgun, it might be keys to a motorcycle or your diary. Then the flashback ends, your character shakes his head, and pries open the chest.

Later on you might see a familiar person, and flashback to a time when you knew them. Depending on your choices and actions in the "flashback" level, that person could be your old girlfriend, or your sister, or a crack peddler who wants you dead. After the flashback, you snap back to the present, and have to deal with that person.

This isn''t quite the same as the Memento idea, since you are creating the backstory as you play, rather than just revealing it. But it allows for all kinds of variations. Characters could be totally different from one play-through to the next, making for immense replay value (and no small amount of story-writing, which might be a chore).

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When I mentioned the dual timeline idea, I didn''t even think of actions in flashbacks influencing the future. I really like that idea, and it could make for any number of possible story lines. I really think this idea could make for a big hit game, if properly executed. If the story isn''t that good, however, the player may just find going through again to see efects of different actions tedious. The point of having these highly influential choices is to bring the player back again to see what may happen if they do things differently.

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It isn''t a backward story, but did anyone play Flashback: The Quest for Identity? It was a fun side-scrolling game kinda like Prince of Persia, with the climbing and gathering items and such, except you had this sweet gun instead of a sword. It was a blast.

You''ve got amnesia because of aliens and blah blah blah, but your memories are preserved in a computer that''s held by a friend of yours on Earth (you''re on a moon of Jupiter. Titan, I think). So you fight your way to the spaceport, hitch a ride on a ship, and get to Ian, your buddy, who pumps you full of identity and gives you some items. Then you go kill all the aliens and blow up their planet. Good work.

If you could have that same game, but in a big free-form world, like GTA3 or something, and have your memeories being accessed remotely, you could have all kinds of fun. You get to an uplink, and you have just a few seconds, depending on your playing and how many guys are after you, before they cut the power and you have to book, so you jack in, pick two or three memories from the list, and download them. Or perhaps each site can only be used once a day or something. I dunno.

The memories could be shown in-game as movie files or whatever, or maybe they are playable levels or something, but you could learn access codes or locations of items or identities of people or whatever. Then you run around the world trying to get to another uplink to get more memories back. You could even make it really hard to get all the memories, so you have to make do with the 80% or so you can find, and detective your way through the rest of the game.

Perhaps you could divide the memories into "People", "Places", and "Skills". That way, you could choose at each opportunity to learn something or to recover one of your more advanced abilities, like raising levels in an RPG. It''s sor tof like in the Matrix, when they learn something esoteric, like operating a helicopter, in just a few seconds.

Again, this is way off-topic. This whole memory thing is just terrific.

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Iron Chef Carnage, I just have to say... excellent idea. I''m very intrigued. I see exactly what you''re saying with accessing old memories to learn new skills or either learn more about the story, and it''s not even off-topic. This way, you keep the forward-momentum (no pun intended) of any other story-telling game, but also include a backwards way of showing the player what happened. Excellent idea, which would definately make for a very impressive game. I''d snatch the idea, too, and program it, but, it''s your idea, and thus your choice. I hope you turn it into something profitable, because I know I would pay to play it.

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If you give the player the ability to choose between more story or more skills, what do you think most players will choose. I think that you should have a choice of which you take, instead give points, or something, towards memories and points toward skills, but perhaps have them connected, such as seeing certain memories gives you access to certain skills, and having certain skills gives you access to new memories. This way the player can gain abilities and memories. And also, it would be cool to give the player the ability to choose memories to play through, and upon completion (although they could always return), they would gain the ability to go for more abilities. This adds a platform game element, although that doesn''t mean the game has to be totally platform. Look at TimeSplitters one or two. Completeing levels will give you access to new levels, although eventually you will stop gaining levels, you could end up having many choices as to where to go next. Anyone going to try making the game idea we''re coming up with here?

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I have no programming skills whatsoever, and am currently embroiled in a desperate battle for a degree in Philosophy, so any ideas I come up with are communal.

And on the topic of skills versus story, you could link them together into a tree. Once you start to access your memories from your summer in France, you learn about your French cousin, your French house, your distaste for French food, and your French kung-fu instructor.

Or better still, have memories linked together in a sort of pseudo-neural network. The more you learn about France, the cheaper surrounding memories become, and if you get all the memories adjacent to a memory, you get that memory for free. I'm envisioning a combination of the skill system from Final Fantasy X and the Japanese board game "go".

[edited by - iron Chef Carnage on November 16, 2003 8:05:42 PM]

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Whoa I dont come on here for a few days and the thread explodes with ideas-Im impressed. I would love to work on this game, although I was only throwing the idea around since I dont have a team or anything so I cant do anything now. But Im going to make sure to try to keep developing it and seeing what I can come up with and maybe I can mod it for HL2 or one of the other games coming out in the coming months. If anyone is intrested in helping email me at:
wes_in_himer@hotmail.com

Thank you guys so much for the ideas.

EDIT: Carnage your into philosophy? I study it vigoriously, although its just a passion didnt go to college for it lol.

[edited by - wes on November 16, 2003 8:06:43 PM]

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Alright I thought I would bring this thread back since there was such a good turn out the first time around. Ive only recently gone back to this idea, since Ive been very busy over these last few months, but here is some questions. If you have any ideas to contribute please do.

1.) What about dual perspectives? For example you have one character moving forward through the storyline while another moves backwards revealing something different about a situation.

2.) What genre do you think this would work for best? At first I thought it would be good for a adventure game, but the story telling would work great for a survival horror game. And survival horror games need a shot of innovation so..eh.


Omega147 you said: "This way, you keep the forward-momentum (no pun intended) of any other story-telling game, but also include a backwards way of showing the player what happened"

Can you elaborate? possibly give a example?


RichardMV you said: "at a key point in the middle, work your way back, and then work forward from there. That way you get the work backwards feel, but later on you end up going forwards, keeping that story telling element in there"

Can you give a example of how you could make this work? Seems kinda confusing to me.

Alright thanks for your help, also I believe someone emailed me I accidently deleted your email so if your still intrested please email me again: wes_in_himer@hotmail.com

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