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The role of story in games

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Hi,

I have wrote an article on my blog, expressing my feelings about the role of a story in a video game.

[url="http://www.jungle-troll.com/2012/05/11/story-in-games/"]http://www.jungle-troll.com/2012/05/11/story-in-games/[/url]

Please let me know what is your opinion on the matter (and if you are a writer, please don't feel offended, they are just my personal opinions about the issue, feel free to state your own).

Thanks!

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@jefferytitan - Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue. Indeed I might be a little too enthusiastic over my ideas, but they are usually the result of me playing many games and finding fewer and fewer that I can consider really good, and surprisingly, those are not the most popular ones out there. Might be because indeed there are fewer good games overall, might be because I played so many in the last fifteen years that my brain quickly recognizes most mechanics and rejects them as boring, but I'm struggling on each one to identify what are the reasons for which i don't like a game personally (a very subjective view, I agree). The "story" tool used wrong is one of them.

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Firstly, story is not what drives a game's budget. In most cases (outside of very select studios like Valve, Obsidian, Bioware, etc) story is done last. They make the assets, levels, etc for the game, and then a narrative designer is contracted to basically explain how everything fits together. This is the reason why so many game stories are either incredibly cliche, or feel tacked on.

Secondly, I have to disagree with you on how story should work. In Story-driven games, such as Dragon Age, The Witcher, Baldur's Gate, etc, the player knows exactly what they are getting into. They know that this is a story driven game. To say that this is unfair to the player, is similar to saying that a shooter is unfair to the player because it isn't a turn-based strategy game.

Games like Serious Sam where the story is just there to explain why you need to shoot stuff are not magically better games than story-driven games, yet you present the argument that the only games that should have story at the forefront are interactive narrative. I'm sorry, but this idea is nothing short of ludicrous. Can story be done better in many games? Yes, and one of the ways it can be done is by writing the story first and structuring everything around it, rather than the opposite way. Most games, as I said earlier, construct nearly everything about the base game before bringing in a writer. This, and not simply the presence of an important story, is what causes the break between game play and story in most cases.

Additionally, even in open world games or games without story, you still only have a set amount of ways you can deal with a situation. I cannot, for example, run up in Serious Sam and attempt to talk a Gnaar out of trying to kill me. My options are: A. shoot it; B. Run away while shooting it; C. run away. I have no other options than that. So to say removing story will add more choices allowable by the imagination is, sorry to say, quite ridiculous.

A video game is designed by a group of people who each have their own imaginations and ideas. Any game, regardless of the presence of story, will only have a set amount of ways you can deal with issues. Games that push story to the back can easier give an illusion of larger choice, but in many cases actually have fewer choices than in-depth story driven games. For example, let's take Elder Scrolls. When I get a quest I have two initial options: Run off and don't do the quest and just run around, killing things and looting things, or take the quest. That is a binary choice. Now when I take the quest, let's say I am told that I need to clear a cave of goblins. My choices are: Clear the cave of Goblins and Don't Clear the Cave of Goblins. Once again, I have a binary choice. Sure, in a game like Elder Scrolls, the combat system allows me to choose how I clear the game of goblins, but this has everything to do with mechanics and nothing to do with the presence of story or lack thereof.

Do some games work better without story? Yes, but to say that only interactive drama type games should have an in-depth story is nothing short of ridiculous to me. Edited by DadeLeviathan

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[quote name='DadeLeviathan' timestamp='1337199913' post='4940754']
Firstly, story is not what drives a game's budget. In most cases (outside of very select studios like Valve, Obsidian, Bioware, etc) story is done last. They make the assets, levels, etc for the game, and then a narrative designer is contracted to basically explain how everything fits together. This is the reason why so many game stories are either incredibly cliche, or feel tacked on.
[/quote]

In my article I was mostly referring to the top AAA games, which are coming from some of the select studios you mentioned and they are story-driven.

[quote name='DadeLeviathan' timestamp='1337199913' post='4940754']
Secondly, I have to disagree with you on how story should work. In Story-driven games, such as Dragon Age, The Witcher, Baldur's Gate, etc, the player knows exactly what they are getting into. They know that this is a story driven game. To say that this is unfair to the player, is similar to saying that a shooter is unfair to the player because it isn't a turn-based strategy game.
[/quote]

I think you misunderstood me a bit on this one. You are totally right, the player knows that he gets into a story-driven game, but does he know the mechanics are so flat that after half of the story there is no other incentive to play the game anymore but the story itself? I think the reactions on ME3 endings are the result of such a bland gaming experience. The had mostly the same mechanics for three games, so the main selling point were their story, which ended up in being a major disappointment. Later we found out we could turn the tide in our favor by playing multiplayer, that is, grinding to death again on those same mechanics just to get another ending, and maybe spend some more money in between. This is the unfair part.

How about games like Mount & Blade or Bastion, where you have a base story for the setting you are into, and then you construct your own story from there on, feeling you have a multitude of choices of what to do and how to do it at each step? How about Shadow of the Colossus, Daemon's Souls, where you have to dig for the story yourself?

[quote name='DadeLeviathan' timestamp='1337199913' post='4940754']
Additionally, even in open world games or games without story, you still only have a set amount of ways you can deal with a situation. I cannot, for example, run up in Serious Sam and attempt to talk a Gnaar out of trying to kill me. My options are: A. shoot it; B. Run away while shooting it; C. run away. I have no other options than that. So to say removing story will add more choices allowable by the imagination is, sorry to say, quite ridiculous.

A video game is designed by a group of people who each have their own imaginations and ideas. Any game, regardless of the presence of story, will only have a set amount of ways you can deal with issues. Games that push story to the back can easier give an illusion of larger choice, but in many cases actually have fewer choices than in-depth story driven games. For example, let's take Elder Scrolls. When I get a quest I have two initial options: Run off and don't do the quest and just run around, killing things and looting things, or take the quest. That is a binary choice. Now when I take the quest, let's say I am told that I need to clear a cave of goblins. My choices are: Clear the cave of Goblins and Don't Clear the Cave of Goblins. Once again, I have a binary choice. Sure, in a game like Elder Scrolls, the combat system allows me to choose how I clear the game of goblins, but this has everything to do with mechanics and nothing to do with the presence of story or lack thereof.
[/quote]

Exactly my point here. Games should be mostly about the mechanics and gameplay decisions, only with bits and pieces of the story around. I think in the Elder Scrolls example you are considering only the "on the spot" decisions. How about decisions on which faction you should join? There are some games in which you can make some very important decisions about your destiny while not taking part of a pre-scripted story.

[quote name='DadeLeviathan' timestamp='1337199913' post='4940754']
Do some games work better without story? Yes, but to say that only interactive drama type games should have an in-depth story is nothing short of ridiculous to me.
[/quote]

Indeed, some other game genres do, if the story is implemented well within the game.

I was recently playing Diablo 3, and their story telling is very nice. Every bits and pieces are also narrated, so you can continue to play while you listen to them. I understood they struggled a lot to make dialogues as shorter as possible, and put everything else in this audio format. Blizzard did good with all their other games from this perspective. There is story in Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft, but it doesn't break the game flow, and you can always read the books if you want to know more. Edited by meeshoo

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Well, I think you make a mistake by trying to find the one best solution for everyone and every game.
In reality players are different - some value sandbox games, some value structured content. Some want to experience new things, some want to re-experience the same thing. And so on...
The main reason why developers love stories is probably the orders of magnitude bigger variety they can present through stories than is possible to present in "create your own adventure" style. Things like apocalyptic and world-changing events and serious interpersonal relations and intrigues are almost impossible to integrate into free-form gameplay. And thus the latter becomes dull and uninteresting (at least for many players): join this faction, fight that faction, discover something about certain NPC, discover something about yourself, do a random quest...

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Homeworld is a good example of a game where you have the freedom to achieve your objectives in any multitude of ways, but still has a storyline that blows most narrative-style games out of the water (in its execution more than the actual story itself. It is well told).

Sometimes I'm in the mood for a ripping good story, other times I just want to play in the sand. There are plenty of great sandbox games out there, and I simply don't accept that the emphasis on narrative for non-sandbox games is sucking oxygen away from innovation in the field of game mechanics.

I hear what you're saying about games like Mass Effect, but you're essentially arguing for less depth and breadth of content, and for real fans of those universes, that is what allows them to get so completely involved and immersed in a game. Others just want to tick off their list in the same way they tick a book off their reading list. Well they can play Metro 2033 or portal and be done with it in under a weekend

The real problem is that writing for video games is still in its infancy. I'm a member of a couple of forums for aspiring novel writers and the standard is just so [i]so[/i] much higher than anything I've seen in a video game to date.

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On my opinion the story is the most important one. Every game I do, starts with the story design. I want to give the player something to think. A game is like a picture. It tells my world.
I love games who have a good story but maybe bad graphics. The other way around is totally different.
This was my opinion. (But I'm book author??)
And yes you are right somewhere but also false. Keep writing!
I like the article and it let me think about this. I suppose this was your goal? Yeah, you did it.

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I like story a lot, so I agree with you there. However another article made a great point. Don't thrust a characterisation on the player. Regardless of who you tell the player their best friend or long lost love is, many players will get through the levels the most expedient way. So... if your story is about the protagonist's character, that character better align with what most players will want to do anyway.

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