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What makes a Great Game Story?

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Okay, I''m opening this thread to a discussion on people''s opinions of what makes a Great Game Story. A compelling storyline is absolutely vital to many games, in my opinion, and I think that it''s important elaborate on what the definition of Game Story is, how it should be written, and what it should entail. Some examples of games that have great stories, in your opinions, are very helpful in illustrating points. Some of my favorite games with great(and not so great) stories are these: The Good: The Guardian Legend (but you have to look for the storyline) The Metroid Series (Metroid, Metroid II for GB, and Super Metroid) The Final Fantasy Series (most of them anyway) The Legend of Zelda Series (all of them) Xenogears The King''s Quest Series (for PC, #''s 1-8) The Ultima Series Pokemon (the concept stinks, but the story is impeccable, don''t flame me please) The Metal Gear Series (Uh, oh... The truck have started to move!) The Oddworld Series (too bad it''s moving to X-Box, again don''t flame me please) Dark Cloud Ecco the Dolphin Warcraft and Starcraft Doom Harvest Moon Faxanadu (again you have to search for it) Chrono Trigger The Secret of Mana The Phantasy Star Series (except for Online) The Skies of Arcadia Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver The Castlevania series (though the story wasn''t really important until II on the NES) The Mega Man Series (it started getting dumb after IV though) Diablo Crystalis The Dragon Warrior series(definitely old school) The Resident Evil Series (spooky as hell, but good, except for a few key phrases of trite dialog in the first: "Enrico!" cries Jill in a broken voice. Even though she barely knows him. ) The Bad: Final Fantasy VIII (the plot was poorly written) Final Fantasy Tactics (the story didn''t fit with the game very well) Grand Theft Auto Chrono Cross (overly complex) The Legend of Mana (too complex as well) Phantasy Star Online The Goonies II (I expected better of Konami) The Bouncer (I found it was just a little unrealistic) Final Fight (like The Bouncer, argh) And the Ugly: Evergrace The Street Fighter Series The Contra Series (Konami *could* have done a better job) I have reasons for all of them, and my definition of storyline is bound to be different than many. So, feel free to post your opinions here! Paradigm Shift 2000

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for a game story to be good, it has to draw you into the world of the game, and make you enjoy the experience. the legend of zelda (first one), for example, was an awesome game. even with the crappy NES graphics (compared to today i mean), i STILL like that game better than many that are new.
i can''t agree with you on doom though... don''t get me wrong, i love the game, but not because of any alleged story (demons come and kill everyone; now you kill them)... it is fun because of the action and the atmosphere (flames and pentagrams are just fun)...
the ultima series (at least 4 and up) are my all-time favorite games... everything you do affects your "karma", and to win you must begin to think as if you were really there, and strived for the 8 virtues (at least in 4 & 5, later this got diluted but the games still had good storylines)...

--- krez (krezisback@aol.com)

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Hmm.... FFT had a bad story, but Doom had a good one? C''mon.... Doom barely even has a story, and the story it DOES have is cheesy. The whole time the guy is trying to get revenge, because the zombies on the moon killed his pet rabbit.

I think a good game story is the same as the story for a good book. It has to have detail and intrigue.

-Forcas


"Elvis is alive. He is Barney the purple dinosaur. He is the pied piper that leads our children into the wages of sin and eternal damnation."



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you forgot one under the ''good'':
earthbound
all players you came across were immediately playable, didn''t have to leave any of your favorite characters behind, ect..
perfectly balanced gameplay... hardly any learning curve at all, funny story line..

also- i think chronocross was a bit too complex as well..
the story would''ve been great toned down, but the REAL thing
that irked me in that game is that they tossed so many
playable characters at you... WTF am i gonna do with 56 playable characters when i can only control 3 at a time?


-eldee
;another space monkey;

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It''s going to be difficult to pin-point what makes a good game story, and the arguments already seen in this thread highlight this. Someone says Doom has a good story, another disagrees. The real question should be, does Doom need a story? The only point was to go around killing things, so no I don''t think it did need a story. Quake III doesn''t need a story either.

Obviously role-playing games require more of a storyline than most FPS titles, who have been able to get away with generally superficial and cliched stories. This has more to do with the mechanics of the typical RPG, which relies more on story and less on visuals, as compared to the FPS which sails on pure visual ''gratification''.

Also, Paradigm, you haven''t explained why you think these games had good stories. It won''t help answer the question if we all list the games we think have good stories without explaining why.

So, here goes. One game I can think of that had what I would consider to be a good story is Half-Life. Now, this storyline was fairly cliched in a lot of ways and was completely linear, but it did serve the game''s structure well. HL was not meant to be an RPG, but it still managed to have a much more integrated storyline than any of the Quake games, for example. Of course, it''s hard to pick anything bad about Half-life so maybe it''s not a fair choice. In any case, the storyline was good because it immediately immersed the player, gave him a clear goal (survival), identified the enemies (everyone, except fellow scientists of course), had some twists, was emotional (mostly evoking a feeling of paranoia), and was long enough that it held some decent replay value. All in all, I would say it was well balanced and the design and story were very well integrated.

Just my 2 cents.

R.

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I have to agree, Earthbound was a great game. But the one game that had the best story was Final Fantasy 7. Why? Everything is linked together, but, at first, you don''t understand the connections. As the game continues, new connections are revealed, and existing ones are strengthened, in such a way that the story becomes truly epic.

The concept of mako, and its linkage to materia, and eventually knowledge and life in general, was revealed slowly, and in a mysterious way. Your concept of what mako really is changes. At the beginning, it seems similar to nuclear power. Activists hate it, and it probably isn''t too good for the environment, but it doesn''t seem horrible. As the story progresses, it becomes even more meaningfull and widespread, and you come to see how puny the people are in comparison to this huge force that they are trying to harness. When you think about it, it makes you reflect on what we are doing with nuclear power and other manipulations of nature, and how much we don''t know.

Mako also has a history. The broken-down plants hidden in the mountains have much the same aura as secret World War II experiments like the Manhattan project. It is much like the German researchers, who hid in dungeonlike church basements in the mountains of Norway, working on their experimental reactors, without any idea of what the consequences would be.

Cloud and Sephiroth both fit into this history; they come from the same source. The fact that good and evil are so closely linked adds meaning to the story. So does the fact that Cloud, the "failure" emerges victorious over his seemingly successful counterpart. Other bits of history add to the richness and depth of the story. The failed rocket launch that Cid is involved in again feels like a long abaondoned World War II / Cold War experiment. That fact that this artificial reality has so many parallels with the "real reality" adds all the subtle connotations and associations of the "real reality" to the artificial one.

Mako is also present in nature. In the mountains in the beginning, and later in the lifestream, you see that it is everywhere. The fact that one thing is so multifaceted adds a lot to the story. Everything is mako, in one way or another. The mad scientists, the creepy vampires, the biological horrors, the Genova Project, and the Ancients - they are all part of a single important concept.

The "bad guy" also isn''t entirely bad. You can sort of sympathize with Sephiroth. But he is still a bad guy - make no mistake about that - and, as the story progresses, he becomes more and more twisted. He transforms slowly and gradually from the original character into something much more evil. There is one incredibly important moment in the plot: When Sephiroth kills Aeris. This is perhaps the only game I can think of that kills a real character that you have invested in and grown attached to. It is not as if the story is "A long time ago, he killed my father." Sephiroth kills someone who is very real to you. You feel rage.

Another important thing about FInal Fantasy 7 is what it didn''t do. It used text, not voice acting, and it used cartoonish, unrealistic characters. Both of these things are very, good. The story creates a large and immersive world, but the characters are not supplied to you "in full." You don''t get voices, and you don''t really get an image, aside from a rough idea of what they look like. This leaves much to the imagination, and that is certainly a good thing. When a game tries to be TOO realistic, it almost invariably fails. The human mind does a great job at picking out the few flaws that ruin an otherwise "perfect" scene. But in a game like Final Fantasy 7, it fills in all the details with much more vividness and "realness" than any animation and sound can.

The music also adds a great deal to the story. It sets the mood, and further links concepts. Sephiroth''s gothic choir, and the hearbeat pounding in the silence add even more darkness and depth to Sephiroth than he would have had on his own. In addition, the Sephiroth theme is incorporated into the themes of linked ideas. The theme for "Weapon" incorporates Sephiroth''s; the two ideas are linked by music as well as plot.

These are the makings of a great story.

I probably haven''t really effectively gotten across why Final Fantasy 7 had such a great story. The biggest reason is that I myself am not quite sure. But I do know that no game has ever sent a sent a chill down my spine, or triggered as much anger or emotion in me, as did Final Fantasy 7.

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quote:
Original post by TerranFury
But the one game that had the best story was Final Fantasy 7. Why? Everything is linked together, but, at first, you don''t understand the connections. As the game continues, new connections are revealed, and existing ones are strengthened, in such a way that the story becomes truly epic.

The concept of mako, and its linkage to materia, and eventually knowledge and life in general, was revealed slowly, and in a mysterious way. Your concept of what mako really is changes. At the beginning, it seems similar to nuclear power. Activists hate it, and it probably isn''t too good for the environment, but it doesn''t seem horrible. As the story progresses, it becomes even more meaningfull and widespread, and you come to see how puny the people are in comparison to this huge force that they are trying to harness. When you think about it, it makes you reflect on what we are doing with nuclear power and other manipulations of nature, and how much we don''t know.

Mako also has a history. The broken-down plants hidden in the mountains have much the same aura as secret World War II experiments like the Manhattan project. It is much like the German researchers, who hid in dungeonlike church basements in the mountains of Norway, working on their experimental reactors, without any idea of what the consequences would be.

Cloud and Sephiroth both fit into this history; they come from the same source. The fact that good and evil are so closely linked adds meaning to the story. So does the fact that Cloud, the "failure" emerges victorious over his seemingly successful counterpart. Other bits of history add to the richness and depth of the story. The failed rocket launch that Cid is involved in again feels like a long abaondoned World War II / Cold War experiment. That fact that this artificial reality has so many parallels with the "real reality" adds all the subtle connotations and associations of the "real reality" to the artificial one.

Mako is also present in nature. In the mountains in the beginning, and later in the lifestream, you see that it is everywhere. The fact that one thing is so multifaceted adds a lot to the story. Everything is mako, in one way or another. The mad scientists, the creepy vampires, the biological horrors, the Genova Project, and the Ancients - they are all part of a single important concept.

The "bad guy" also isn''t entirely bad. You can sort of sympathize with Sephiroth. But he is still a bad guy - make no mistake about that - and, as the story progresses, he becomes more and more twisted. He transforms slowly and gradually from the original character into something much more evil. There is one incredibly important moment in the plot: When Sephiroth kills Aeris. This is perhaps the only game I can think of that kills a real character that you have invested in and grown attached to. It is not as if the story is "A long time ago, he killed my father." Sephiroth kills someone who is very real to you. You feel rage.

Another important thing about FInal Fantasy 7 is what it didn''t do. It used text, not voice acting, and it used cartoonish, unrealistic characters. Both of these things are very, good . The story creates a large and immersive world, but the characters are not supplied to you "in full." You don''t get voices, and you don''t really get an image, aside from a rough idea of what they look like. This leaves much to the imagination, and that is certainly a good thing. When a game tries to be TOO realistic, it almost invariably fails. The human mind does a great job at picking out the few flaws that ruin an otherwise "perfect" scene. But in a game like Final Fantasy 7, it fills in all the details with much more vividness and "realness" than any animation and sound can.

The music also adds a great deal to the story. It sets the mood, and further links concepts. Sephiroth''s gothic choir, and the hearbeat pounding in the silence add even more darkness and depth to Sephiroth than he would have had on his own. In addition, the Sephiroth theme is incorporated into the themes of linked ideas. The theme for "Weapon" incorporates Sephiroth''s; the two ideas are linked by music as well as plot.

These are the makings of a great story.

I probably haven''t really effectively gotten across why Final Fantasy 7 had such a great story. The biggest reason is that I myself am not quite sure. But I do know that no game has ever sent a sent a chill down my spine, or triggered as much anger or emotion in me, as did Final Fantasy 7.



I had to quote the whole thing because I agree with it whole heartedly. I have 7 memory cards filled with ff7 blocks. Everytime I hear Aries''s Theme a half-tear drops from my eye. I''m one of those guys who doesn''t cry much.

Every single bit of Final Fantasy 7 was great... the story was the best part. Final Fantasy 9 was almost as good...

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I don''t particularly like or play RPGs much (so I often feel left out around here), but did you have to classify Contra and SFII as "ugly"? Those games didn''t need any real story! It''s like analyzing the stories for Nemesis or Silpheed , or Tekken , or Samurai Showdown , or SNK versus Capcom (for the limit on storyline redundancy)... and yet you think Doom had a good story? (It was somewhere between Cyborg 2 and RoboNinja in the B-story standings).

I think there is nothing to be gained by observing games that added the storyline as an afterthought. Only games that have pushed the boundary of interactive narrative - or have attempted and failed horrendously - will profit this discussion.

So give me back my Contra . Contra rules! Contra forever!

OT: I''ve thought about making a Contra tribute game, and calling it Super-C++ (geddit?)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
For "low level story" Harvest Moon is quite possible the best game. It was so great because you had so much freedom. Freedom of story is the best way to make a good story.

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What odd criteria for judging whether a game had a good story. I mean, Super Metroid? It had a story? The first 2 Zeldas?

Here are games that had GOOD stories:
Sanitarium
Woodruff and the Schnibble
Obsidian - the set-up is a little cliche, (AI becomes conscious, decides to kill off humans) but the resolution is original
FF7 - the philosophy was a little cliche and heavy handed, and for such a long game I would have liked more worldbuilding and fewer orphan stories, but the emotions were very vivid

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Let me just add that Castlevania and Megaman/Rockman series both dosen''t have much of a storyline either. Also that a great story is not "absolutely vital" to a game; as you can tell from the current poll.

quote:
Original post by Oluseyi
So give me back my Contra . Contra rules! Contra forever!

OT: I''ve thought about making a Contra tribute game, and calling it Super-C++ (geddit?)


Thanks to you, I spend the last 2 hours pondering about 2d side shooters and how would such a game compete vs the present FPS big name titles. Are you serious about the Contra tribute game ?

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Yeah, I''m serious. I thought it would be cool to make it 3d, but with purely 2d gameplay including overhead, over-the-shoulder (the corridors from the original Contra) and side-scrolling. Plus all those cheesy move-and-pause "puzzles".

The only problem is that I no longer enjoy writing low-level graphics code. Oh, well...

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For cool side-scrolling use of 3D graphics, you should look at R-type Delta, that was a sweeeet game!

Check out this thread as well, it''s also about storyline content, but with respect to actually using storyline as an element of immersion (i.e. to complement the gameplay).

George D. Filiotis

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How about MYST?

Uh oh, I smell flames...

MYST actually has a really good story, if you can be bothered to find it out. The reason many people hate the game is because most of it is spent deciphering and deducing the story, while most other games simply tell it to you as you go along.

In fact the story is now so complex that, in addition to filling the three games made to date, it also spills over into three hard backed books you can buy (they''re actually quite good, don''t write them off as a tacky spinoff)

Opinions on this, anyone? What is the best way to present a story in the various genres of game? Integrated like an average adventure, essential for enjoyment like in MYST, or incidental like doom?

Story is not always optional. Without it''s story, MYST would not have sold.

I must apologise if this post is a little convoluted, I''m writing thoughts as they come to me, whilst also eating dinner and watching tv between keystrokes.

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quote:
Original post by Paradigm Shift 2000
Okay, I''m opening this thread to a discussion on people''s opinions of what makes a Great Game Story. A compelling storyline is absolutely vital to many games, in my opinion, and I think that it''s important elaborate on what the definition of Game Story is, how it should be written, and what it should entail. Some examples of games that have great stories, in your opinions, are very helpful in illustrating points. Some of my favorite games with great(and not so great) stories are these:

The Good:
The Guardian Legend (but you have to look for the storyline)
The Metroid Series (Metroid, Metroid II for GB, and Super Metroid)
The Final Fantasy Series (most of them anyway)
The Legend of Zelda Series (all of them)
Xenogears
The King''s Quest Series (for PC, #''s 1-8)
The Ultima Series
Pokemon (the concept stinks, but the story is impeccable, don''t flame me please)
The Metal Gear Series (Uh, oh... The truck have started to move!)
The Oddworld Series (too bad it''s moving to X-Box, again don''t flame me please)
Dark Cloud
Ecco the Dolphin
Warcraft and Starcraft
Doom
Harvest Moon
Faxanadu (again you have to search for it)
Chrono Trigger
The Secret of Mana
The Phantasy Star Series (except for Online)
The Skies of Arcadia
Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver
The Castlevania series (though the story wasn''t really important until II on the NES)
The Mega Man Series (it started getting dumb after IV though)
Diablo
Crystalis
The Dragon Warrior series(definitely old school)
The Resident Evil Series (spooky as hell, but good, except for a few key phrases of trite dialog in the first: "Enrico!" cries Jill in a broken voice. Even though she barely knows him. )

The Bad:
Final Fantasy VIII (the plot was poorly written)
Final Fantasy Tactics (the story didn''t fit with the game very well)
Grand Theft Auto
Chrono Cross (overly complex)
The Legend of Mana (too complex as well)
Phantasy Star Online
The Goonies II (I expected better of Konami)
The Bouncer (I found it was just a little unrealistic)
Final Fight (like The Bouncer, argh)

And the Ugly:
Evergrace
The Street Fighter Series
The Contra Series (Konami *could* have done a better job)

I have reasons for all of them, and my definition of storyline is bound to be different than many. So, feel free to post your opinions here!

Paradigm Shift 2000
I don''t want to read through the whole thread, but i MUST qoate Paradigm Shift 2000.

I can''t stand how you rated some of these titles.

1. ChronoCross
This game has it ups and downs, but the story is great and compared to Xenogears, CC is easy to understand. The Frozen Flame, the Chronotrigger, the Dragon Gods, Lavos. A boy who fights for the survival of mankind on this cold earth (...).

2. FFT
One of the greatest stories i have ever read. The war, the cruel war, which does not halt before brothers and sisters, taking away from us for what we fought so brave. Intregueing with great story turns. The social conflicts, -blame god or yourself- Ramza, Delita, Agrias,(...).

3. Xenogears
Has the most outstand gamestory i have ever read.

-The wounded shall advance into the light-

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Guest Anonymous Poster
u forgot a game thats story is so good it blows everthing else outta the water, and that game is, MAX PAYNE, the story was unbeilvable, u could feel for him, almost like it was happening to u, the characters were beliveable and u missed people when they died, or u were overjoyed when that dumb bitch die.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
[q]Pokemon (the concept stinks, but the story is impeccable, don''t flame me please)[/q]

I totally disagree. I thought it was a cool concept with a sh**y excuse for a story.

=w=

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quote:
Original post by Anonymous Poster
u forgot a game thats story is so good it blows everthing else outta the water, and that game is, MAX PAYNE, the story was unbeilvable, u could feel for him, almost like it was happening to u, the characters were beliveable and u missed people when they died, or u were overjoyed when that dumb bitch die.


Heh.... well, I guess you could say the story was engaging . However, it was cliched to high hell... the writer (or game designer, thereof... IIRC, they didn''t hire a writer for the dialogue) takes a page from Raymond Chandler''s novels, but unfortunately only seems to have taken one page.

I think the best thing that can be said about Max Payne is that it does quite a bit of story with what it has. Think about it... all the story is in static screens you can read the Photoshop filters off of like a book. The models'' faces don''t even change, darnit... and they still manage to have a story.

And the REASON they manage to have a story is that they''ve recognized and embraced the limitations of the game.... they recognized that the graphic novel style best highlights and complements the unreal, hyper-malleable timescale. Just as there is no right story for every person, there is no right story for every game; the engine informs the story just as much as (and more than, IIRC) the other way around.

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The thread question is somewhat strange ... its like:
How do you write kewl stories everybody likes?
- no answer - if you have the answer tell me and make me rich -

Games are just another media like tv, books,web,(...).

The real question should be:
How good does a game profit from the interactive parts of games?
Which game has great storytelling, which one has a good storyline?
Which game has the best atmosphere?
Which Games Characterdesign do like most and how good does it fit to its world?


One who bears fangs at god

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Well, as Jonus sorta pointed out, I don''t think there''s a solution that''ll end all discussions on good story design. But I''ll tell you what I happen to like.

First of all the story (and of course the game) has to capture me immediatly, if it doesn''t I''m gone. I have better things to do. Sounds harsh, and well... it is But seriously, I really can''t be bothered to play some obscure slowmoving RPG when I have 5 other potential RPGs that might get me into the game faster.

That''s not to say that the story can''t move slow though, but it has to do it after I''ve been hooked (first time''s free right? .

Then there''s the issue of how it all plays out in-game, that''s of course very important. The most common mistake in my eyes is companies not spending enough time on (in the case of first person games and the likes) animation and story driving events that play out in an unexpecting way. Not following? I''ll give you a quick example.

In Metal Gear Solid I was actually surprised when a guy, sitting on the floor uses his cane to tap Snake on his leg to sort of emphasize his dialogue. That''s GREAT! People do it in real life all the time, but in games (*cough*Deus Ex*cough*) two characters are usually just put in front of each other and spit out their lines while doing some idle animation or talk_gesture animation (Like in Deus Ex when he starts bending his head and moving his arm, I hated that in an otherwise mostly satisfying game).

And speaking of Medal Gear Solid, the characters of that story are really one of the things what makes it stand out to me. I mean how can you NOT love Psycho Mantis with his floating in mid-air, using optic camoflage and the mask and all. It''s just characters that''ll stick with you for a long time and make you remember the story.

Remember the first MGS2 video that came out shot by a camcorder at the Tokyo game show I think it was (or was it E3?). Either way, as soon as Revolver Ocelot stepped onto the screen you could just hear some one going "Revolver Ocelot". He really sounded like he just knew Ocelot and that this was an expected move for him.

Sticking with MGS, because it''s really a rather good example in my book, I''ll point out what I think was pretty irritating to the whole story. The relationship between Snake and Meryl seemed so pushed by the designers. I wouldn''t mind it normally, but it just seemed overly pushed in MGS, which was a bit too bad.


As a general rule though, I think what makes stories in games good is basically the same as what makes stories great in movies and books. And I''m of the belief that a good understanding of story structure for for instance movie scripts is invaluable for writing stories for games.

Also the understanding that a story CANNOT be written overnight, nor over a week, it takes months usually (at least for me) to do a proper story. And never be afraid of scratching what you''ve got and starting over again. You won''t be starting from a blank plate since you''ve already made a lot of new connections in doing the initial idea.

Well that''s off the top of my head, hope it''s somehow useful

Michael Heilemann
---------------------------
Designer on Singularity - Sysop at Nerve Impulse
Let us never allow ourselves the sin of forgetting our dreams!

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