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Humble Hobo

Story vs Gameplay

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In this brief span of time that games have been around, I think we've come a long way in developing gameplay mechanics. As I've always seen it, there are two overarching aspects to a game:

1. The Gameplay
From football, to chess, to puzzles, to the MMO, a game is primarily just that; a game. It has rules, and the players work within those rules to progress and achieve victory. Often these rules allow for various strategies, and often reward players for knowing the rules better, for being flexible, and for thinking of the best strategy.

2. The Story
When I think about it, the most compelling story elements to a game I've seen are in the scripted parts; the hard coded cut-scenes and dialogue. I get the impression that games are not nearly as far developed on presenting a story, than presenting the gameplay.

So, here is my question

What do you think about how to use the interactive elements of a game more effectively to tell a story? I say interactive, to mean the parts of a game unlike a film. Do you have any thoughts on how to exploit the interactivity of a game, in ways you couldn't simply achieve in a movie?

I've got some opinions too, but I'd like to hear some of yours first.

[Edited by - Humble Hobo on December 29, 2010 11:52:04 PM]

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I reread your post several times and I was contemplating to post or not. I was about to leave this post and check out other on the forum, but then What I was thinking I wanted to post and leaving and then left I would of not remembered of what to have said.

My point is this.

It all depends on the story or game mechanics you the player just went through.
I has seen some games where during cut scenes, you can move about the room or area and look around while the NPC was talking about the story from the beginning and the stuff you have just acquired or the area you the player or character are about to enter.

Most cut scenes are short movies so there was no need to do anything in the sequence anyways.

The only opinion that comes to mind. Or situation that would be interesting enough would be moving something for the next area or looking at a book in a library for looking at lab chemicals in a laboratory or accessing the in-game computer console to gather new information about the story line bosses or sub bosses or material shipments or looking at maps?

The other thing is this:

Destroying the next main boss. 50 out of 50 games allow you to destroy the boss
with or with out cut scene movie like quality goodness.

Edit: You destroy the boss = no cut scene after that final slice of the blade or final shot with a firearm.

You destroy the boss = the last final slice of your blade becomes a cut scene Hollywood studio short film. After the destruction and the Ooh's and Aw"s from massive kill scene and all of the players (or viewers) watching the character destroy the beast the cut scene ends and then you are allowed to move your character around the screen.

In any other situation I can not think of any movement required to do during a cut scene. It just becomes a game with no cut scenes and the story continues.

These are the only things that come to my mind. Would like to hear some of your ideas.

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Games (especially MMOs) are rather notorious for shallow stories. The difference between a game and a movie, is the interactivity (you actually get to take part and BE the character. You make decisions and involve yourself in the world).

I suppose my questions is, how can we utilize this better (take advantage of the capacity to actually interact with the world, instead of just watch it happen)?

Design Side
One thing I was thinking about, was a plot level for an RPG. For example, the main, overarching plot is set in place by the developers, but it has multiple branches. What if the player actually leveled up the plot in an area, and depending on what branches they focused on, the whole game would travel along different plot lines. Discovering new areas/people/items would open up new plot branches, or smaller branches.

There could be event points along each branch, possibly unlocking new branches. These event are what drive the story along, and they would have to be 'unlocked' by the player.

Even more, you could make it possible that NPCs are also pushing plot streams forward. Perhaps the main plot is in conflict (the forces of good want to take it one direction, the forces of evil want to take it the other), and you as the player try to push that balance over the edge one way or the other.

Not nearly a complete idea, but just one of the things I thought about using to create a more interactive story. Dynamic story is something that suits a dynamic media like games.

Dynamic Persistence
If we can make the story matter more to the player, it will be more enjoyable. I recently replayed levels 1-10 of WoW, twice. I tried a different mindset each time. If I was in it for the level grind (get to 10 as fast as possible), I didn't care one bit about the 'quests' I was on. I felt kind of like a mindless drone/errand boy. But the second time through I was in it for the story. I read all the dialogues, and I found myself caring a little more about what I was doing. It meant something to me. In fact, it was jarring to see my quests reset so that others could do them after me.

That's why single player RPGs are generally more rich in story than MMORPGs. MMOs are persistent, but unchanged by anything you do, so it's harder to care. I think the more meaningful the player's actions, the more he/she will care about the story/what is happening. So give them the dynamic tools to have an impact and see the influence right away.

In this case, the story's not really any different, it just means more to the player. Using interaction to improve how we view the story in games.

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I think it's much easier to make a linear, scripted story compelling than it is to make an interactive story compelling. So if compelling is what you really want, an interactive story is probably not what you want. Interactivity makes a story powerful in a different way, by making it personally relevant and allowing the player to choose what type of story they want to experience, what role they want to play within a fictional society or relationship, etc. An interactive story is typically less intense per amount of time, but allows the player over time to invest themselves much more deeply into the game, the avatar, the world.

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Yes actually. That pretty much sums up my second post; a tug-of-war plot line with multiple ropes.

But on a tangent - what has been the best/ a great experience you've had with story in a game? Have you ever played a game that really got you into a good story? Was it the story itself that was compelling, and were there mechanics in the game that you think helped add to this effect?

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Hmm, multiple ropes... that's similar to what I normally think of as multiple meters (for relationships/alignment as well as things like level in a profession or class). This approach works well for a dating-sim/RPG sort of game. The Harvest Moon series is my usual example. I keep wishing someone would make a grown-up version of this which is like an interactive science fiction or fantasy romance novel. The kind of thing where part of the game is learning to work within with some alien or fantasy culture.

There's really not that many interactive story games in existence though, particularly if you don't know Japanese. I could make a list of games I've played which created the most powerful story experiences, but they would all be linear or with a token attempt at interactivity, and they would almost all be adventure games (of the type which actually have NPCs, not the myst-type ones) or RPGs.

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I think this topic has two ultimate lines. The Final Fantasy saga and The Sims. Final Fantasies have always been kind of "technologically advanced" to support the story telling elements.

Final Fantasy VI proved that with SNES you could do somethings most people ever could not have thought of by that state of game history (many very personal characters, playing a role in "back then realistic opera", and overall very well written story line, at least when compared to the history of RPG's so far)

Final Fantasy VII was the very first game that portraied that the future of (RPG) games could be in very movie-like story telling, but in-my-opinnion Final Fantasy XIII did the exact opposite, I played the game through only because it seemed like a good movie, the game mechanics were very boring (well what can you expect from the Final Fantasy X-2 creator team...).

The Sims, you ultimately make what your character becomes of, no deep story telling, but the ultimate game mechanichs on what comes to story telling.

I think these two game series very well portray the very opposite aspects of game mechanics and the story line.



I would like to bring up another point, which I feel is very very important. How you tell the story affects very much how easy it is to relate to it and how effective the story telling is. Why many people didn't relate to the Baldurs Gate/Never Winter Nigths story-line as strongly as for the Final Fantasies of the era. Because textual story telling is much less effective than animated one. All of the Wizards of the Coast RPG's would have been great if everyone would have read what every NPC has to say, but no one did read it all...

This get's down to the script writing, the more freedom you add, the more you have to write, the more you have to write, the worse quality you will be able to make.

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Agree with Morri.

Maybe it is theoretically feasible to make a game full of action-results, yet developers have to add immense contents into a single game. As the growth of branches, the game content have to exponentially expand in order to complete the story. The storyline will like a binary tree, which is too hard to control and it will cost unimaginably plenty of time to accomplish the story.

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Quote:
Original post by Nofootbird
Agree with Morri.

Maybe it is theoretically feasible to make a game full of action-results, yet developers have to add immense contents into a single game. As the growth of branches, the game content have to exponentially expand in order to complete the story. The storyline will like a binary tree, which is too hard to control and it will cost unimaginably plenty of time to accomplish the story.


It does not have to be a tree-structure. A better plan is modules and checks. Modules: the player makes some choice, the game reacts, but after the immediate reaction it has no effect on availability of future choices. It might increment a meter. Checks: Part of the player's data is a checklist of what the player has done in the game. A binary checklist is tiny, in terms of data storage. The game can check the list to see if the player has or hasn't done something, and use this data to personalize a communication to the player. Again, this has no effect on future choices.

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