STORIES IN GAMES: A COUNTERPOINT TO USUAL THINKING

Posts

Pages: first 12 next last
Orson Scott Card, a famous science fiction writer whose Ender's Game is being made into a movie (and a couple of video games, apparently) has recently weighed in on stories in video games, and said something that goes contrary to a lot of thinking in the RPG Making Community:
"Games CAN'T have the kind of storylines that movies and books have, or they wouldn't be playable. You are correct to skip the tedious, badly written "scenes" that are usually a pathetic job of trying to paste story on top of a game."

Now like I said, a lot of us would probably get furious at this remark. But I'd like to provide a counterpoint and support what Card is saying here. Games are, at their hearts, an exercise in interactivity. The entire point of a game is to put someone into a situation, present them with rules and give them a goal. Sometimes they're competing against other people, sometimes they're competing against the computer, but it's basically always just a challenge to overcome. Anything that gets added on top of that is just garnish, so to speak. We add graphics so the player can see what he's doing, and sound to keep him from getting bored (and to help him get in the right mood, on occasion). And in recent years, stories have become a major part of that.

Now that's all well and good. Card isn't saying games shouldn't have any story, and I certainly wouldn't support him if he was. Stories can be very helpful for getting the player invested in the goal that's being presented, thus making the eventual goal that much more tantalizing.

The problem arises when the story becomes the driving force in the game. When the writer on a project becomes too tied up in a game's "canon" plot, and in forcing the players to go through the game in a certain way, the game begins to suffer and edge towards that unplayable situation Card has been talking about. Compounding that fact is that, even in the professional sphere, almost no games have really good writing. I can think of a handful--the Phoenix Wright series and the Lucasarts Adventure games come to mind pretty quick--but not very many. Most people who I see on the internet are not as good at writing as they think they are. I'm not trying to be mean here, but if you find yourself thinking "Well he's just talking about all those other people. They do suck!" It might not hurt to really examine your work. Get people outside of the community to read it....but be careful who you choose. A lot of people will just pretend to like it because they assume you're sensitive about your work (And a lot of people are. More than they think.), or they'll find some totally inconsequential thing to criticize because they assume it'll get them out of having to say anything that actually matters and might hurt your feelings, like "I think Soufflé would've been more entertaining if she had a French accent." (I speak from experience, here. It's one of my favorite tricks for commenting on other people's stuff.)

So anyway, yeah. If you're focusing on story, sit down and reassess your game. What are its strengths as a game? Why would people want to play it? Why does it work better as a game than a novel, or a film? Is my writing really good enough to make people trudge through it to get to the scraps of gameplay I'm willing to throw their way?

A few closing thoughts:
1.) Games that don't take themselves seriously often seem to be the ones that have the better writing. Phoenix Wright and the Lucasarts Adventure games, which I mentioned above fall under this heading, for example.
2.) This doesn't apply to machinima or whatever we decide to call those non-game film-y-thingies made in gaming engines like RPG Maker. Probably Visual Novels don't count either, since they're barely even games to begin with.
3.) I encourage discourse here. I know this is likely to be a somewhat controversial stand for me to make, so I fully expect arguments. Make them, but make them good!

The full text of the Orson Scott Card interview can be found here, by the way: http://news.filefront.com/gaming-todays-exclusive-interview-with-author-orson-scott-card/
WIP
I'm not comfortable with any idea that can't be expressed in the form of men's jewelry
11363
I'd like to add that Card is a mormon.

I agree in what he is saying. Note that he is not saying games cannot have good stories. He is saying they can't be the same style as a book or movie. Those are static and non-interactive. I think his example is what you get from a lot of games that try to throw in a sense of story in the midst of action and such.

The optimal kind of story in a game is where you feel as though you played a part in it. Not being lead on by a string by the developer.
WIP, I thought I'd mention that I am a Mormon, and that I have no idea how being Mormon has anything to do with this.

That is all.
If I were 14 when I read this post, I would have been all like "LOL STFU NOOB." But I'm not 14, so I pretty much agree with what's been said.

I'm not really sure what to add. A good story won't save a bad game, and a bad story won't ruin a good game. I can think of lots of RPGs with dumb stories that were still way fun to play (and that I would play again), but not a single one with dull gameplay that was saved by a good story. There have been lots of crappy RPGs I've suffered through just out of lack of anything better to do, but those usually have lame stories AND lame gameplay.

I can think of at least one game where the pitiful story RUINED an otherwise pretty-okay RPG: Xenogears. The game itself was fun enough. Lots of areas to explore. Two battle systems (one which was fun and one which was trash, and they made you use the trash one far more often).

But the STORY. Oh man. The game threw so much unimportant minutiae at you that it took hours and hours to slog through all the piddly little details of every insignificant thing. Only the diehard Xenogears fanboys care about 90% of the Xeno story. Xenogears had a cast of roughly 35,000 and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them had at least an hour of screentime, no matter how important they were to the core plot.

On top of that, add in literally hours of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but hammering the X button to advance the text. The spinny necklace scenes still haunt my dreams.

So what should have been a decent enough 20-30 hour game was dragged out to 50-60 hours thanks to it's ovebloated story which, in the end, sucked completely hardcore. I won't even get into the pointless religious symbolism. (But maybe someone else will!)

author=Ræn link=topic=61.msg790#msg790 date=1182209862
WIP, I thought I'd mention that I am a Mormon, and that I have no idea how being Mormon has anything to do with this.

That is all.

Mormons are silly! =D
Ocean
Resident foodmonster
11006
I agree that stories could be more interactive. I don't really want them to be so interactive that it just ends when you are bored with it, I like definite endings.

However, for some reason I don't like when you're given a bunch of choices in a dialogue box, because then you'll want to save before it and see what they all say. Also, sometimes games have bad endings if you don't pick the right choices, and I hate that.

I would rather be more in control of what the main character does, though. I hate when they give the enemy the last sphere they need for them to destroy the world in exchange for a character you don't really care for anyway. For example: In FFIV, you give a crystal in exchange for Rosa. I didn't like Rosa, I'd be fine with leaving her down there to die, so that the enemy didn't take the crystal. I could always go back to Mysidia and pick up a White mage there to replace her. And to top it off, she could have warped herself out of there anytime she wanted to.

For that matter, I'd rather have the main character like the character that I like, not have it be predetermined. If I were Tidus I'd be after Lulu instead of Yuna.

Otherwise, yeah, I pretty much agree.
What's interactive fiction about then? A Mind Forever Voyaging was fantastic if I recall correctly, and I'd say despite all the text it's still a game.

With modern games, however, I suppose I agree. Every now and then, however, I've come across some game stories which are surprisingly well written, almost always older ones. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, for example.
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21237
Games have stories now?
author=Ocean link=topic=61.msg793#msg793 date=1182211566
However, for some reason I don't like when you're given a bunch of choices in a dialogue box, because then you'll want to save before it and see what they all say. Also, sometimes games have bad endings if you don't pick the right choices, and I hate that.

Planescape: Torment gets around this problem nicely by having so many options that it's impossible -- and the options actually MATTER. The things you say in conversations directly shape your character and, in some cases, the world around you. However, no matter what you do, you can never "botch" the main plot. The game is both linear and nonlinear at the same time. Weird.

I hear Knights of the Old Republic handles this pretty well too, but I've never played it because you know star wars eww.
I'll add a quick sidenote to this. The story to Wild Arms 5 was made by a published novelist. The company hired her to write the story. In an interview, the novelist commissioned to write the story said she could see no way of making an RPG story interesting without branching paths and multiple outcomes.

So that's definitely something to think about--coming from an AUTHOR and not a DESIGNER.
Actually. I disagree with the dude but agree with most of what Shadowtext said. I love playing devil's advocate.

What about original stories that aren't books but written by seasoned novelists that are tuned for games? *ahem* And Se-- Forever An Ill Fate just posted a prime example.

Also by what Card said, his games will suck anyway because it'll just be "a pathetic job of trying to paste story on top of a game." <sarcasm>Because I mean.. god.. stories adapted into games suck so much. I mean.. JEEZ.. it's like the story was like copy and pasted or something straight into the game and not really even remotely adapted. I mean like EXACTLY the same! It's LIKE copies or something!</sarcasm> I'm sure he'll adapt elements of his stories to work for the games. Elements being the story because the characters are filled and so is the environment. Lucky lucky. The problem with movies adapted from books is because they never EVER EVER stay true to the novels. They always have to change one little thing. Strike Batman Begins from that list though. :O~~

And dubya-tee-eff.. his book is going to become a movie and a few games. That means he is a sellout regardless if he is Mormon or not. Buhwahahaha! What a loser.

I believe a story can easily be adapted into a game. *points at Maranda* Although that goes against #2 closing thought of said topic creator. I believe it is still a game. Game is being used as a broad term. It played with my emotions and had me watching it multiple times spawning ideas and such. Isn't that what stories are suppose to do? lol That's not the point though.

A story, regardless if it is for a book, game, movie, etc.., is still a story. Stories can branch off or be linear. It's just how everything is presented. ACTION! ACTION! ACTION!

Good books, bad books, good movies, bad movies, bad games, and good games. Stories in games have never been a problem to the extent that it outweighs movies and novels. I'd rather find a bad movie or game personally than to find a bad book. Reading takes too long too and needs to captivate and inspire to hold my attention.

Stories can be very helpful for getting the player invested in the goal that's being presented, thus making the eventual goal that much more tantalizing.
Agreed!

This topic is an excellent source and example for Maker Users to reference. Down with bad stories! ACTION! ACTION! ACTION! Think outside the box!
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21237
What about Choose Your Own Adventure books?

Whatever. The most important line of Shadowtext's post is this:

Stories can be very helpful for getting the player invested in the goal that's being presented, thus making the eventual goal that much more tantalizing.

A story is just another tool to get the player to play your game. It isn't the only tool and isn't always the best tool.
Warning: Wall of Text Ahead

I agree with this as well. I can't bring myself to play through games like FF8, FF9, or Grandia 2 again. For me the card game was the best part of FF8, but the trouble is as you progress further into the game and gain access to new and different areas I lose access to older areas and the mini-games and side quests found within thus making it difficult if not impossible to finish collecting all of the cards. There was also the forth disk syndrome which I absolutely despise where all non-essential previously explored areas are closed off permanently thus making it impossible to work your way to the end of the game without the risk of leaving something behind. FF9 is the same and Grandia 2 isn't much better because while you can barely backtrack at all there really wasn't anything worth going back for to begin with.

For me it was games like FF6, Secret of Mana, Legend of Zelda, Link to the Past, and Super Metroid I consider to be my favorite. All of them possess one unifying attribute that I enjoy the most. Enviroments. For me it's the games atmosphere, the areas that I still, even today, have memorized to heart like LoZ:LttP's Lost Woods, the area just outside of Narshe in FF6, SoM's Lofty Mountains, or even SM's Crateria. All of the these games also reward exploration of said areas in one way or another, and for me that's more thrilling to find something I didn't know of before than to watch a Cutscene of an area I've only been to once before getting blown up and the Magical Healing Type sadly cling to her Generic Emo Teen. For LoZ, LttP, and SM it's all about hidden items and upgrades, SoM gives its players the opportunity to level and build their skills in weapons and magic, and for FF6 it's a combination of the two.

I realize that it has taken a long time for me to write this (I get distracted easily especially when I start to think about what I love in video games). (Btw I started writing this around WIP first post)

The LoZ series is also a good example of story vs gameplay compairisons. IMHO LttP is the best LoZ game with the First and Fourth running up, but games like Wind Waker and Twilight Princess felt kinda weak in compairison. WW's Water World story line did make for an interesting narrative, but due to the vast distances one needed to travel, the difficulty of fighting with only a tiny boat for maneuvering room, and the fact that it was difficult to steer to begin with made doing anything on the high seas more difficult than it needed to be. Plus the vastness of the overworld left little room for the mind bending dungeons the series is know for. It got worse for TP. TP's story is top notch for the better half of the game, but it seemed to lack some of the more interesting tools and abilities that other games had. Only in the later half do tools like the Spinner and the Rod of Domination come into play, but unfortunately these tools were left to languish after their respective dungeon was completed. And despite the fact that TP didn't make travel extremely difficult it didn't really offer any real incentive to explore to begin with as there were no tools, items, or even masks to find, and with the exception of the pieces of hearts nothing else was even worth collecting.

Quote from: The Real Brickroad
If I were 14 when I read this post, I would have been all like "LOL STFU NOOB." But I'm not 14, so I pretty much agree with what's been said.

If I were 14 when I read this post, I still would have said the same thing because when I was 14 I was getting disappointed by FF9 back then.

Quote from: The Real Brickroad
I hear Knights of the Old Republic handles this pretty well too, but I've never played it because you know star wars eww.

There are a few good Star Wars games out there like Rogue Squadron's 1 & 2.
author=MK634 link=topic=61.msg818#msg818 date=1182231143
If I were 14 when I read this post, I still would have said the same thing because when I was 14 I was getting disappointed by FF9 back then.

Let's see, what game came out when I was 14...

I think it was FF7. Yep, FF7.

Quote from: The Real Brickroad
There are a few good Star Wars games out there like Rogue Squadron's 1 & 2.

Also I didn't have an Xbox. =D
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21237
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic I & II are some of the best RPGs I've ever played. I absolutely love beefing up my character's stats with skills, equipment and whatnot. Their stories are better than the movies, for the most part, too.

(Incidently, the fact that I can't boost Link's stats AT ALL is a major turn off for me for LOZ games - I've spent more time playing Link in Super Smash Bros than I have any of his actual games.)
author=kentona link=topic=61.msg831#msg831 date=1182268011
(Incidently, the fact that I can't boost Link's stats AT ALL is a major turn off for me for LOZ games - I've spent more time playing Link in Super Smash Bros than I have any of his actual games.)

In Legend of Zelda, you can find heart containers to raise Link's HP stat, and upgrade to new swords, shields and armor to upgrade his attack and defense stats.

In Adventure of Link, you gain experience which you can allocate into Attack, HP and MP stats.

In Link to the Past, you can find pieces of heart, sword/shield/armor upgrades, and the 1/2 magic gremlin to raise your stats.

Etc...
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21237
Yeah, like 3 swords and 2 other armors. Even the original Dragon Quest had more equipment variety. Plus, where's my STR, AGL, MGP, LUCK stats? LOZ is far too simplistic for my tastes.

KOTOR II has a workbench werein I can completely customize and tweak my equipment to my liking.
author=kentona link=topic=61.msg834#msg834 date=1182270586
Yeah, like 3 swords and 2 other armors. Even the original Dragon Quest had more equipment variety. Plus, where's my STR, AGL, MGP, LUCK stats? LOZ is far too simplistic for my tastes.

KOTOR II has a workbench werein I can completely customize and tweak my equipment to my liking.

The original Dragon Quest doesn't have a single puzzle or secret item. The original Zelda has several in each dungeon. =)
kentona
I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.
21237
author=The Real Brickroad link=topic=61.msg835#msg835 date=1182270820
The original Dragon Quest doesn't have a single puzzle or secret item. The original Zelda has several in each dungeon. =)
Puzzles and secret items don't increase my stats.
author=kentona link=topic=61.msg836#msg836 date=1182271619
Puzzles and secret items don't increase my stats.

Min/maxer. =P
Here's the thing: I absolutely ADORE that handful of games that integrate story into games well.

I'll concede that games do no need great stories to be a lot of fun, and that bad gameplay is more likely to break a game than bad story, but I firmly believe that great writing can add a whole lot to a game. It's about telling a good story that FITS the medium of game, as opposed to just cramming a lot of flowery text into a game.

Video games are a interactive medium. They have a special potential when it comes to telling a story BECAUSE they are interactive. You are the one putting the effort forward to accomplish the ingame goals. If the story is well told, you will CARE about completing your objectives. It's more emotionally involving because you are investing visceral effort into the course of events.

It certainly won't replace books or film, especially when a game can be a very limited medium in terms on story telling. You need more interaction than story most often because, yeah, hammering the confirm button to proceed can get pretty dull.

Stories in games are not the MEAT of the experience. The story can be an effective FUEL to compel you to play. You can get by without it, but it is very enriching to have all the same.

I'm inordinately fond of Lucas Arts adventure games. They've a tendency to be brimming with more personality than you find in just about any other game. Some Sierra adventure games also manage this, but typically aren't quite as polished.

Games like Prince of Persia: Sands of time, Super Metroid, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Chrono Trigger, Silent Hill, ICO, Starcraft, The Neverhood and Psychonauts do not necessarily have fantastic stories in and of themselves, but are made much more glorious by how well the story flatters the gameplay.

Super Metroid has a powerful narrative, and doesn't speak a single word after the intro. ICO gets by with a few more scraps of text, but the world you are in speaks volumes more than any exposition would have.

Then there's stuff like Max Payne, Sanitarium, Callahan's Crosstime Salloon, Zork: Grand Inquistor, and Starship Titanic. Stuff that uses story as a driving force. I love these sorts of games, even though they're largely unappreciated. The gameplay in Max Payne is extremely monotonous, but the personality and story telling help make it highly enjoyable for me in spite of that.

I may just be in the minority, though. I know a great many people were disappointed with Final Fantasy 9, but it happens to be my favorite just because the characters are so well realized and dynamic.

I'd like to add that Odin Sphere has one of the more powerful RPG plots I've seen in years, which makes it the hideous slow down that gets cropping up much more bearable.

Plot shouldn't replace gameplay, but I do think it's an invaluable and under utilized aspect to the mix. Writing in games can stand to get a lot better, but that requires that people start writing for games as games instead of writing for them like they're books or movies.
Pages: first 12 next last