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Risujin

Whats YOUR message?

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There are a lot of posts floating around pertaining to realism and graphics as making the game, just thought I'd add my 2 cents: I actually think its a bit strange that when people talk about games, they only talk about games. After all, games are in essence just a story-telling/experience medium just like paintings, films, novels, etc. They actually have a lot in common. Take films for instance, ever since their inception people have been developing new technologies to enhance the experience. Films have gotten "prettier graphics" and "more realistic" (this phrase sounds strange when talking about movies but think WW2 flicks filled with better/more accurate explosions/gore etc) over time and it could be argued that (especially in recent times) the genre hasnt been truly evolving. If you look closely however, films, like games, are based on a finite set of story-telling devices. A story-telling device is anything from moody lighting to how the story progresses (told backwards, Memento style? thats a device). New story-telling devices are typically only invented along with a new medium. When going from paintings to moving pictures you can now make use of motion to signify something. From movies to games you can now use player control and desires, etc. However, there really arent that many effective devices. Many films convey vastly different messages with the same basic set of devices. Their development has been ongoing for millenia and through extensive trial and error it is now more or less known what works and what doesnt. When you're creating a new film or a new game, you're essentially stuck with the devices of your medium. And unless you're particularly brilliant or lucky, you wont discover any new ones (and if you specifically try to, you wont get good funding, as the odds of your success are really low--ie a risky investment). I think we are more often frustrated by poor games not because they dont make good use of story telling devices but more because of what they use their devices for. A game, like a film, is conveying a message. A message doesnt have to be some explicit statement about something in the real world, it can be just a way of looking at something--a perspective. Game developers typically do not take advantage of this, and choose to recycle their message. Think about Unreal Tournament 1, 2003, 2004 .. etc, is the message really changing or is it the same old game again? The graphics, gameplay, and realism *do* change but the experience is more or less the same. Think of the difference between say Doom and Thief. Doom conveys a shoot-everything-that-moves rambo style, whereas Thief changes the formula (ie the message) to mold the experience into one of stealth, caution, and trickery. That is a different message. Notice that both games are essentially shooters and both series undergo upgrades in graphics and realism, yet the message of each game remains the same. If you really want to create an innovative game, you need to have an innovative message. The way you convey your message is gonna be through tried-and-true devices like everyone else. In the end, your graphics (2D/3D..), gameplay realism (does the game simulate the crumbs on the floor of your car?), and other technologies are merely limiting factors on what kind of message you can convey. Moreover, more often than not, these "limiting" technologies arent so limiting at all. You can convey your message more or less with equal effectiveness through any number of them (you probably dont remember, but GTA was once 2D). (Sorry about the essay, I guess it did come out a bit long) :3

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Some games don't have a story. In others that do, the story is completely ignored in multiplayer, which is often the most popular part of the game. I don't think you can really express a game as a story.

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Some games don't have a story. In others that do, the story is completely ignored in multiplayer, which is often the most popular part of the game. I don't think you can really express a game as a story.


True, but that didn't stop people from making so many "Interactive Movies" either (IE: Xenosaga). Some games do rely on the story, even though you may never hear any dialogue or read any kind of information on any kind of plot whatsoever, the story itself is conveyed through the environment and setting of the game. Places, things, people, tools, the protagnonist, etc. Like doom for instance, which is considered to have had the thinnest of plots in its beginnings did still have one nonetheless, in the form of weapons, places, theme's, goals and endings.

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Hmm maybe I was wrong to put so much focus on story.

Multiplayer games also have message though. Think Enemy Territory, one basic message could sound something like "you have to work together to win".

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the story itself is conveyed through the environment and setting of the game. Places, things, people, tools, the protagnonist, etc.

I think Gyrthok puts it best actually.

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If you count those, you are saying that any and every environment is the story. I don't think Tetris has a story.

If you give something a definition as broad as that, it really loses its meaning.

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I think the push towards 100% realistic graphics is great. Not because I want it per se, but because the faster we get there...the ore people can stop obsessing about them...and focus 100% on story.

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I more think of a computer game as a game rather than a medium for a story. Just like monopoly is a game rather then a medium of a storyteller. There are films too that do not focus on delivering a story, but rather a visual experience. I guess anything can be used as a medium for a story; a computer game, your own voice, pen and paper etc...

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If you count those, you are saying that any and every environment is the story. I don't think Tetris has a story.

If you give something a definition as broad as that, it really loses its meaning.

Well you have to broaden the definition of story, yes. Thats why I'd call it a message instead, but fundamentally its the same idea and it's not meaningless.

The message of a film/game is what it makes you think about. For example, a war movie will make you think about how bad war can be and that is the point. The better the message and the better the way it is conveyed, the better the experience.

The unique feature that separates games from other media is that games challenge you and use the challenge itself as the reward. Arcade and puzzle games are the purest manifestation of this. Arguably these games do not have a very deep message but they do have one. That message is simply to challenge you to be better than your last high score or beat the next challenge. Our pride does the rest of the work. [wink]

Now thats not saying a simple message is a poor message. There are hoards of crappy games out there which ask the player to do xyz mentally unchallenging tasks (ever hear of "leveling up"?) to learn more about how angsty it is to be the magically chosen hero when a short game of tetris will make your brain work twice as hard.

A bad message isnt relevant to our lives and doesnt interest us. Most of us just aren't magically chosen heroes and could care less (that is assuming the "magical hero" isnt being used as a metaphor for more relevant things).

But then again, Thief held my attention far longer than any Tetris. [grin]

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Original post by Risujin
I actually think its a bit strange that when people talk about games, they only talk about games. After all, games are in essence just a story-telling/experience medium just like paintings, films, novels, etc. They actually have a lot in common.

No; that's just not true. Games can be used as a story-telling medium, but that is not what makes a game a game, or what makes people want to play them. Counter-Strike is popular because it takes skill and is fun to play, not because people like the roll-playing aspect or really care what happens to those AI-controlled hostages. In most games worth playing, the most important element by far is the way that the user interacts with them, the gameplay. Many games have a story, but it can most often be ignored without detracting from the experience, and many other games lack any real story. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, such as adventure games, which have nothing else too them but a story and puzzles, but they are the exception, rather than the rule. People talk about games differently than they do about books or movies because in most games, the focus is on the actions of the user.

Quote:
I think we are more often frustrated by poor games not because they dont make good use of story telling devices but more because of what they use their devices for. A game, like a film, is conveying a message. A message doesnt have to be some explicit statement about something in the real world, it can be just a way of looking at something--a perspective. Game developers typically do not take advantage of this, and choose to recycle their message. Think about Unreal Tournament 1, 2003, 2004 .. etc, is the message really changing or is it the same old game again? The graphics, gameplay, and realism *do* change but the experience is more or less the same.

Think of the difference between say Doom and Thief. Doom conveys a shoot-everything-that-moves rambo style, whereas Thief changes the formula (ie the message) to mold the experience into one of stealth, caution, and trickery. That is a different message. Notice that both games are essentially shooters and both series undergo upgrades in graphics and realism, yet the message of each game remains the same.

If you really want to create an innovative game, you need to have an innovative message. The way you convey your message is gonna be through tried-and-true devices like everyone else. In the end, your graphics (2D/3D..), gameplay realism (does the game simulate the crumbs on the floor of your car?), and other technologies are merely limiting factors on what kind of message you can convey.

Huh? When I play a game, I evaluate it based on how much I enjoy playing it. I'm sure that the "message" of the game factors into that in some unconcious way, but in a typical, gameplay-oriented game, what I notice is whether the game challenges me at an appropriate level and whether it rewards me appropriately when I overcome challenges. I am frustrated or disappointed with a game most when it is boring, seems impossible to beat (or do well at/improve at if it is a high score type game), or does not seem to require any kind of skill. I enjoy Doom, not because I believe that it is important to "shoot-everything-that-moves rambo style," but because it is fun to try to prove that I am skilled enough to overcome the virtual world created by ID.

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Moreover, more often than not, these "limiting" technologies arent so limiting at all. You can convey your message more or less with equal effectiveness through any number of them (you probably dont remember, but GTA was once 2D).

Of course technological limits make it more difficult for the game designer to achieve his goal; the world that designers base their visions on is very complex, and limiting technology prevents them from fully representing those visions. That said, I would tend to agree that the level of technology available is far less important than the skill of the development team, both of the programmers themselves, and of the writers and designers.

You touched on some truths Risujin, but I think you are generalizing too much. The story is very important in some games, and to some gamers, but games are different from movies and books in a very fundamental way; that interactivity matters deeply. Some games may have a message, but most lack any intentional message, I think. People play games to have fun, not to learn universal truths. Don't get me wrong; I think that trying to include a story in a game can add a lot to it, and including a theme or message can add a lot to any story, but making the game fun is essential to making a good game, while neither a story nor a message is. A game may even have a message without having much of a story, but that doesn't make the message any more essential to the game's enjoyability. Tetris has neither a story nor a message; all it really is is a way of challenging the player, yet it is one of the best-loved and most enduring video games ever.

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(Sorry about the essay, I guess it did come out a bit long)

Hmm, mine seems to have come out a bit longer than I intended, as well [grin] . . . I guess my point is that your thoughts largely apply to story-telling in general, and that while games are a good medium for story-telling, it is not an intrinsic part of them.

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Well, if you're saying that the goal of the game is the "message", and that the message is the "story", then could you reiterate your original point using that context?

I don't see the point of mixing together "the goal of the game is to beat the high score" along with the plot a movie or a book.


Some games have stories, obviously, but equally obvious is that fact that others don't (or they largely ignore them).

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