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Plot is not Story!

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Mainstream movies (moreso than other narrative forms like novels and plays) are all about moving the story forward. Things happen in movies, the plot twists, secrets are revealed, cars chase other cars, people shoot at each other. There's constant forward momentum. But plot isn't the only way to tell a story. Think of a play like "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Yes, it has a plot and some surprising revelations along the way, but that's not what's driving the story. They story is mostly about the way the different characters interact with each other in surprising and subtle ways. There's less forward momentum and a lot more ... milling about.
This link talks about something that I've been thinking about in the whole theoretical debate about story in games. As he says the movies are based on "this happened then this happened". But it isn't that simple in games. I've been thinking about games where you would discover and investigate the backstory, ie. imagine a game where you are a judge and you have to listen to and think about evidence in a case. You would slowly come to understand (or AT LEAST THINK that you understand) what had happened in the case, what motivated the characters. Any thoughts on this topic?

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you describe the same thing...

put it this way...mainstream movies are HIGH CONCEPT...exactly like most games.

high concept means the "hook" or interesting part of the story is placed front and center...typicaly this means the film/game can be decribed in a scentence or two

John McCain fights off terrorists alone in a locked down skyrise - Die Hard

Solid Snake is on a mission to disable the Metal Gear.

John Doe investigates a crime - your game story example

A man with no short term memory tries to find his wifes killer - the film Momento (included as an example of non linear plotting in a high concept film, the whole film is told in reverse)

pretty much every game where you have a game designer directed goal of some sort is high concept...Lara Croft explores tombs, Mario saves the princess, Link saves his kingdom, etc...and any game where the game mechanics or a theme and/or genre is front and center is high concept ...GTA series, raceing games, every RPG, FPS and RTS.

If your main character is identified first by occupation (fighter, detective, lawyer, adventurer, gangster, soldier, etc)...its high concept.

a story is basicly the tale of a protagonist whom must overcome internal conflict inorder to overcome external conflict....most clearly this can be seen in an action film where the hero (with a fear of hieghts) must overcome his internal demons to save the girl stashed away atop a tall tower...more subtley Hamlet must overcome his insecurity of action before confronting his fathers killer.

now if your game story were about a detective with marrage problems out to solve a case...and the resolution of the marrage issues were more important then the case to the main character (but not neccissarily to the player)...well, now you are getting into much more meaty story potential...

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I was always of the opinion that Videogames are more akin to TV shows, than they are to movies. See, a movie isn't quite a This, Then That. Movies are more focused around a small series of events that make up a larger moment in a history.

Take the Matrix. AMAZING SPOILERS ADVENTURE WARNING but we've all seen this movie.
-Neo is released from the Matrix.
-Neo trains against Morpheus.
-Neo meets with the Oracle.
-Cypher betrays humanity; Neo escapes the Agents; Morpheus is captured; Cypher is killed.
-Neo and Trinity enters the matrix to save Morpheus.
-Neo fights Agent Smith.
-Neo is killed; Neo's rebirth; Neo defeats Agent Smith.

7 Coherent events in a 2 hour movie.

Now, a TV show has WAY more events as they tend to last anywhere between 1 to 10 seasons, each season has around 10 ot 15 episodes, and each episode usually have 2 or 3 events (which the industry dubs the A, B, and C plots). Also, the general design of TV is that each episode is to be the same structurally. Serials have continuity, but thats usually as far as they divert.

Videogames, those that are plot heavy, are structed to be the same everytime the player picks up the controller, but have a continuity. Also, they have a wide range of events, some games pushing 40 hours, and certain games I know push 100 hours and beyond. 40 hours in 30 minute spans, 80 episodes?

I'll take that videogames are not books, and the stories shouldn't be very dialogue heavy. But video games are definately not movies.

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That's an oversimplification. In a 100-hour game, 90 hours or more of it is combat, travel, and managing your stats/inventory. Easily. The actual story events in such huge games almost exclusively occur in cut-scenes. Half of the cut-scenes are sweeping panoramas and long looks at character models.

Most video games could be compressed into mini-features between .5 and 3 hours in length. Honestly, if you made a television serial with eighty episodes, and seventy of them were indistinguishable footage of the characters punching bad guys, defeating mini-bosses, lifting weights, walking from town to town, and taking naps to get their strength back, you'd have, well, Power Rangers. Or maybe Dragon Ball Z. Or WWF.

The best presentation of story I've seen in recent years was Second Sight. Simple enough to understand, but with enough twists to keep it fresh and interesting. Good gameplay didn't hurt, either.

I think a good game story is one that is presented through the game as much as possible, rather than given to the player as a reward for finishing a largely content-free chunk of gameplay (*cough* Final Fantasy *cough*).

It helps a lot if the character behaves as the player might. Make the hero a sort of "straight man", who sees what's going on and reacts to it from the perspective of the player. Largely disinterested at first, with a third-person view of the actions and motives of other characters, but as the game progresses, he should become more and more engaged in the story, more interested in the outcome, and more emotionally bonded to other characters. If the character transitions from spectator to actor through the course of the game, he can serve as narrator and avatar as it becomes appropriate, and will be a good vehicle for player immersion.

Thus, the character should become more central to the story as well. First, it'll just be a series of events that you're watching while you learn the controls and get used to the gameplay, then it will be a world that you inhabit, and finally it will be a story that you help author (to a greater or lesser extent).

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I'd certainly agree that newer games only feature the 1 hour of realtime rendered cutscenes, unless its xenosaga, but my analogy isn't completelty unfounded. For instance, the Nippon Ichi strategy RPGs, Disgaea and Phantom Brave in particular, are broken up along this episodic thinking. And, certainly the older games like Metal Gear Solid, and even as far back as FF6, the stories were presented well enough that you weren't just tied down in gamplay for endless hours without getting some story.

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