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Sam Lake on Video Game Storytelling 314

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the something-to-think-about dept.
loladeutsch writes "What makes for a great story in a video game? Sometimes, with all the innovative development and cool graphics the actual story a game has to tell can get lost in the shuffle, or at least can seem to be an afterthought. When a game arrives on the shelves that presents one of the more engrossing stories we've seen in awhile, it's worth noting. Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne has been recognized by many people with their heads screwed on straight as a benchmark in video-game storytelling. "
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Sam Lake on Video Game Storytelling

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  • Context (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mfh (56) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:19PM (#9011755) Homepage Journal
    I see the problem with video game stories as a systemic one, and Sam Lake touches on this when he identifies novels as a singular effort, and video games as a team effort. When you have a bunch of people with different backgrounds working on a project, quite a bit of infighting can occur. Plus there is the aspects of how stories affect the gameplay, and the scaling of the combat in games. The story may call for particular systems to be in place that are impossible, so it is critical for authors to fully understand the game design process to interpret these events into a literary context.
    • Re:Context (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Cr3d3nd0 (517274)
      The real solution to this problem wont be seen until the tools to develop graphical games are as easy to use as the tools for IF (interactive fiction) Many of the stories in IF are recognized as truly intriguing worthwile reads because its possible to create IF with just one person. Once the tools are in place for anyone to make a game creative storytelling will be much simpler.
    • Re:Context (Score:4, Insightful)

      by shut_up_man (450725) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @05:04PM (#9012415) Homepage
      Most development teams these days have a Project Lead, who effectively is the "author" for the game. There's plenty of room for collaberation and individual expression, but that person is the one with the vision and the company clout to say stuff like "No, Gordon Freeman does NOT have nipple rings. Redo this whole thing."
  • ok maybe not that last one...but it had a big fscking gun!
    • by frankthechicken (607647) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:32PM (#9011966) Journal
      , Grim Fandango, damn am I spotting a trend here?

      Should it be so suprising that pure action games generally have relatively weak story lines(with the exception of a few), whereas the more thought provoking ones(in terms of gameplay) tend to have a better plot?

      No correlation to movies is there?

      Gameplay at the moment tends to be driven by arcade desires, I sort of feel we are still in the transition from the stand up arcade machine instant gratification level of gaming to a more time consuming home leisure pursuit.

      Hence I feel the storylines will slowly get better as developers learn more about what is possible for a succesful game for the home, giving alternatives to the wham, bam , thank you kind lady style of today, in favour of a slower pace, yet ultimately more rewarding experience. Which of course are far greater suited for plot and story telling.
  • agreed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Chuck Bucket (142633) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:20PM (#9011763) Homepage Journal
    games like Tomb Raider held my attention much longer than some basic arcade style game. In fact, that's what made consoles diff from the arcades back in the day, a multi-level story, not some 2d game that offers no change upon repeated plays.

    super mario? thanks, but our princess is in another castle! ARRRGGG!

    PCB
    • games like Tomb Raider held my attention much longer than some basic arcade style game.

      Be honest. Was that really because of the compelling, witty story, or because Lara Croft had amazingly well-developed polygons?

  • An observation... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    It seems to me that it isn't always necessary for a game to have a well-written story to be enjoyable, but as technology advances, the possibilities for immersion in the world you see on screen increase also.
  • by MalaclypseTheYounger (726934) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:21PM (#9011773) Journal
    In A.D. 2101
    War was beginning.

    Captain: What happen ?
    Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
    spoken in the Flash animation as Someone set up us the bomb
    Operator: We get signal.
    Captain: What !
    Operator: Main screen turn on.
    Captain: It's you !!
    Cats: How are you gentlemen !!
    Cats: All your base are belong to us.
    Cats: You are on the way to destruction.
    Captain: What you say !!
    Cats: You have no chance to survive make your time.
    Cats: Ha Ha Ha Ha ....
    Operator: Captain !!*
    Captain: Take off every 'Zig'!!
    Captain: You know what you doing.
    Captain: Move 'Zig'.
    Captain: For great justice.
    • Ha ha ha! Oh gosh that's funny! That's really funny! Do you write your own material? Do you? Because that is so fresh. "All your base are belong to us." You know, I've, I've never heard anyone make that joke before. Hmm. You're the first. I've never heard anyone reference, reference that outside the game before. Because that's what it says in the game, right? Isn't it? "All your base are belong to us." And, and yet you've taken that and used it out of context to use in this everyday situation. God what a cl
  • by Lane.exe (672783) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:21PM (#9011774) Homepage
    I call them RPGs. It may be noteworthy when an FPS-type game like Max Payne has a good story line (beyond something like: evil monsters have wiped out pretty much everyone but you. Kill them all!), but storytelling in video games is far from dead.

    • Max Payne isn't an FPS. ;)

      But yes, when it comes down to wanting the storyline, RPGs are where it's at. Games like Final Fantasy, Legend of Dragoon, Chrono Trigger, and Neverwinter Nights really drag me into it and give me goosebumps.
    • by bonch (38532) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @05:16PM (#9012557)
      Deus Ex, absolutely. Deus Ex was one of those games I bought expecting a standard Unreal-tech shooter of the time.

      Spoilers. It even started out boring. You're just an agent. The only hint of a unique focus on backstory is the conversation with the NSF leader in the statue, who rattles on with historical taxation statistics.

      But once you finish the statue mission and enter UNATCO HQ, you start meeting the characters, start getting hints of something greater. By the time you're out of New York and Paul has turned to the side of the NSF, you've tapped into these greater realities woven into the game, and eventually you're flying to Hong Kong, infiltrating VersaLife, destroying a nanotech constructor, and so forth.

      The game starts out as a standard "agent" game with some interesting takes on aiming and skill systems, and ends up as a vast conspiracy game with Illuminati, Knights Templar churches, and weird alien laboratories. Not to mention Area 51.

      One of those games that "feels" completely different by the time you reach the end, like it's a whole new game instead of what it was when you bought it. I really enjoy games like that.
    • by lactose99 (71132) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @05:34PM (#9012756)
      Fallout and Fallout II, some of the best RPG material I ever had the good fortune to purchase (and on the cheap). While the graphics don't really add-up to much in today's market, the story and depth of choices in the game made it an incredible experience.

      Besides, what other games allow your character to completely forget his main quest and become a drug-addicted sex-fiend extortionist?
  • Managing to intergrate the narration into the gameplay (as seamlessly as possible) is a huge key to effective storytelling and immersion in games. A few of the good ones would be Half-Life and MOH:AA.
  • Story? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bobdoer (727516) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:21PM (#9011782) Homepage Journal
    Since when did a good game need one of those? Back in the good old days, all we had were little pixels that roamed the screen, and if they actually did something, we were amazed. Story, heh. Those young'ens today are spoiled, I tell ya.
    • Re:Story? (Score:2, Funny)

      by funny-jack (741994)
      Your pixels roamed the screen? Lucky bastard. Ours just sat there. We had to imagine them moving. And they were all one color, too.
      • Screen? Luxury! Try parchment and ink. The latency caused by drying time was a real hair-puller, that was....
    • Those aren't pixels, they're rocks, and they're being thrown at you for starting another "back in the good old days..." thread.

      and back in the good old day, you were lucky if they threw rocks at you. most of the time it was manure, and you were being thrown into it! Ah, Soviet Russia... those were the days.
  • You mean... (Score:5, Funny)

    by canfirman (697952) <pdavi25@@@yahoo...ca> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:21PM (#9011785)
    ...Grand Theft Auto: Vice City doesn't qualify as a good story? Awww....
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Deus Ex" (NOT #2)

    "System Shock 2" (Discovering Dr. Polito still sends shivers)

    any of the "Thief" series.

    "Half Life"

    • And don't forget Star Control II. The story in the manual reads like a brief history of the world and the game plot twists and turns all over the place in multiple parallel paths that, even giving the player wide latitude in how to accomplish certain goals. That is the best game story ever IMHO.
  • by wookyhoo (700289) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:23PM (#9011808) Homepage
    So long as it compliments gameplay. I love playing a game that I feel a part of, but at the same time, I'm not going to continue playing it just because of a cool story.

    One has to compliment the other, and I think most of us would prefer the games that are better to *play*, rather than those we feel a part of because of an excellent storyline.

    I still play Quake 1 ;)
  • by Zorak Man (732141) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:23PM (#9011812)
    I think that the story is by far the most important thing in a game. I still go back and play games from '99 and before and enjoy them alot. I play the half-life single player at least once a year. Also I just recently played the first Home-world and it was the story that kept me so rivited to it. So what if the graphics aren't top notch, people are not going to pay 50 dollars for their hard earned cash for nothing more then an interactive tech demo. I also just found Multi User Dungeons online, such as nannymud [nannymud.com], its all text, but the stoies in these gamaes are deeper then morst comercial games right now, and I'm am hooked on those.
  • The article noted that the script to this installation of "Max Payne" is four times longer than a movie script.

    Now, I haven't played the game, but if that means it's an eight-hour movie with a little "Okay, move from point A to point B now" thrown in.. no thanks.

    I feel that way about some of the Final Fantasy games. I remember thinking "Wow... 90 minutes in... wonder when I'll, you know, fight a battle."

    That stuff was great when I was 14 and on summer vacation. At 25, I want something I can *play* in 2 hours.. not "get all set up to start playing."
    • A 2 hour game would be great, if it cost $7.50 like a movie ticket, not $50. I like to get my moneys worth out of a game.
      • by mr.capaneus (582891) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:48PM (#9012194)
        I think (I hope) he meant. If he has a 2 hour block of time, he would like to be able to get some playing done in that time, rather than watch a CG, fight one battle and then look for a save point because he needs to go somewhere. If that is what he was saying, I agree whole-heartedly.

        This is off on a tangent but I also think ALL games should allow you to save at ANY time. Maybe they should allow you to save and only restore that save game once, but it really sucks when I am playing some game and have to go somewhere only to not be able to find a save point. Final Fantasy is one of the most irritating games in that regard.
        • Unlimited saving for console titles kills a game's difficulty. Cheaters will simply restart from their last save when they find themselves in an unfavorable position (like death, or once they waste all their potions but figure out the boss' strategy). Unlimited saving should, however, be present on all portable games. In fact, it is on most titles, in the capacity you describe.

          Final Fantasy is getting a lot better at the "get you into the action right away", though there have to be some allowances for t
          • Cheaters? you are worried about cheaters in a single player game? Do you wory about people peaking at the end of the book also?
          • The way to circumvent this is to allow players to save their games at any time, but delete savefile when you reload. (Like in Nethack, of course.) That way, you can't cheat by saving/reloading, but you can save your game at any point and come back to it later, rather than having to spend fifteen minutes to trudge to the nearest save point.

            The original reason for fixed-point saves is a technical one: if you can only save at checkpoints, then there's less data you need to save. With consoles getting more
          • How is it cheating to use a save feature that the game developer put in the game? Unlimited saves or save points like Sly Cooper (unlimited but only at certain places, the thing takes a snapshot whenever you're near it) are the way of the future. Crap like the monstrosity that is the oddworld series is dead. I refuse to play a game which supports try and die. If I have to run through the whole fucking level and redo everything every time I die that game can kiss my ass (you hear that oddworld).
          • If I hear a game doesn't let players save whenever and wherever they want to, I simply refuse to buy it, period.

            The player should be able to save their progress wherever they're at, and the game itself should be difficult/easy/well designed enough to make that issue irrelevant.

            Or, at least, players should have a choice of which way they want to go. Take Wizardry 8, for instance. They have a regular mode which lets you save your games, and then they also have the "iron man" mode which is more restrictive.
      • There was a game called Burn:Cycle that was pretty entertaining back in the day. It could be finished in about 2 hours. In fact, the whole premise is that your character had to solve the game in under two hours of wall time or he'd die. Meaning that you had only about four hours of gameplay if you count returning from savegames because you got killed in some other way. Too bad it sold for about $40.
    • Wing Commander III and IV were like that -- lots of good story... lots and lots and LOTS of story...

      Ooh! Flying! powpowpowpowpowpowpowpow

      Oh. Story.

      Story story story....

      Flying! DEATH.

      Urgh.... intro to story....

    • Now, I haven't played the game, but if that means it's an eight-hour movie with a little "Okay, move from point A to point B now" thrown in.. no thanks.

      It doesn't. You're pre-judging.

      A lot of narration happens as you're playing. It's neat and very noir. Go up to a locked door, and suddenly it narrates, "The door was locked when I tried it." It feels like you're playing a noir flashback.

      At least check it out. I thought it was a neat and different game, and as an aside, the first game I played with a
  • Even better (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bravehamster (44836) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:24PM (#9011822) Homepage Journal
    Max Payne 2's storyline was pretty good, but it got downright pretentious at moments, trying for an emotional depth that the characters just didn't deserve. And you can forget about subtlety.

    No, the best storyline I've ever seen in a game is the Marathon series from Bungie. They've been out for over 9 years, and people are still discovering [bungie.org] new depths to the story after all this time.

    • Re:Even better (Score:4, Interesting)

      by GMFTatsujin (239569) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:51PM (#9012248) Homepage
      Huh. At first glance, the game reminds me of a little-known Activision title called Portal.

      The concept was that you had just arrived on Earth to find everyone had disappeared. A single AI, designed for story-telling, remained online, but its memory had been damaged and it needed prodding to help reconstruct its understanding of events. The memery of the AI was divided into different sections, and by exploring around the sections, you would trigger blocked memories to be revealed.

      There was no shooting, no zapping, no movement, actually. Just hopping from section to section, uncovering clues and having the AI synthesize them into story nuggets. Pretty cool actually. It was like finding an encycleopedia torn to shreds and reconstructing it into a categorical history of the Earth.

      I've often wondered if there were any functional C64 ROMS out there of this game - it was unique, moody, creepy at times, and intellegent.

      "A Mind Forever Voyaging" is another great example of fragmented storytelling -- look for it from Infocom.
      • Well, knowing Marathon, from your description I'm not certain there's much similarity to Portal, outside of the fact that both stories center on a single AI character communicating with the character as the medium for the story... Marathon was, at surface level, a fairly standard action in a SF setting plot. Aliens attack a colony ship, you(with guidance by the ships AI) help fight off the attackers. The story was well put together for the time(instead of a single page of text before the game and at the
      • Don't know about Commodore roms, but there's definitely an Apple disk image of it on the Apple mirror:

        ftp://ftp.apple.asimov.net/pub/apple_II/images/gam es/adventure/portal/ [asimov.net]

    • Re:Even better (Score:2, Interesting)

      by LqqkOut (767022)
      Was I really just visitor #7777777 to the marathon site?! That immediately made me think of FF3 (FFVI Japan) where you'd do massive 7777hp attacks [gamespot.com] when your character was reduced to 7777hp

      I'd have to say the best video game stories are the ones you can talk to other people about. Who cares if I say "Damn, one time I killed a bunch of flood with my shotgun, blah blah" - but when you start talking about getting off that last spell right after Kefka smacked you with "fallen angel" to beat the game with a par

      • Re:Even better (Score:2, Insightful)

        by C0rinthian (770164)
        Call it a hunch, but I think everyone is visitor #7777777. The number 7 is a very significant number in the Marathon series, and people are STILL digging up "hidden 7's" in the games. So, the visitor number is really just an inside joke.

        It's a shame Bungie has come to PC's, as it was really the ONLY thing Mac gaming had. Pathways, Marathon, ONI, Myth.... All GREAT games.

        And IMHO Halo is a worthy successor to the Marathon lineage. (Hell, if some of the possible connections are fleshed out, it could qua
    • Re:Even better (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SamSim (630795) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @06:02PM (#9013066) Homepage Journal

      I find there's considerably more depth to the story in Half-Life than most people realise at first. I'm gonna assume all of you have played it and I reveal the following spoilers:

      At the time of the original accident that Gordon Freeman is present for, Black Mesa has had working teleporters for at least a few months and has been able to go to and from Xen for at least a week. They've captured and domesticated a good few indigenous life-forms - witness the Barnacle weapon and the ecosphere set up for some houndeyes in the Opposing Force expansion. Gradually they've captured more and more fauna until they "start getting collected themselves..." They get as far as Nihilanth's lair and manage to retrieve a mysterious orange crystal.

      Yup. The crystal at the start of the game is the same as the three powering the final boss. Look and you will see a hole in the wall where the fourth crystal was stolen from. No wonder there was resonance cascade. The original accident causes a lot of random teleportations to and from Xen and brings over a whole lot of dangerous animals, but it's only about 12 hours of game time after the original experiment that stronger enemies - the green slaves, and the huge alien grunts - begin appearing spontaneously. This isn't accidental: this is enemy action by Nihilanth, who is moving to attack Earth... which is something the Administrator, who observes pretty much the whole course of events, has been expecting, indeed, preparing for. Read Alan Shepherd's diary and you know this was actually expected to happen.

      Realising what has gone wrong the grunts are sent in, find it's too difficult a task to take on, are pulled out and replaced with black ops who attempt to nuke the place as a last resort. Shepherd stops the nuke and between them, he and Gordon Freeman block the alien invasion and kill Nihilanth, thus solving the problem in a different manner from what the G-man expected, but successfully.

      When I figured all this out I was mightily impressed with Valve's storytelling abilities. The inattentive player would have missed a whole lot. I have high hopes for HL2, and I think I heard whispers of a movie of Half-Life...?

      • Re:Even better (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dswensen (252552) *
        and I think I heard whispers of a movie of Half-Life...

        Sadly, a Half-Life movie would probably have a much thinner, dumber story than the video game does. And at least one guy outrunning an explosion while yelling "It's gonna blow!"

        I remember the naive days of my youth, when I used to wish they'd make movies out of my favorite video games and comics, instead of wishing they wouldn't.

        Charlie Sheen would make a great Gordon Freeman though.
  • MP2 the benchmark? (Score:3, Informative)

    by FortKnox (169099) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:26PM (#9011869) Homepage Journal
    Huh? What about Deus Ex or System Shock 2? You want story, look to the FPS/RPG mixes... thats where its at!
    • Or (it's been mentioned by a previous posted, but) Marathon.

      http://marathon.bungie.org/story/

      Check it out. The deepest FPS I've ever played, and possibly the deepest that's ever been made.
  • by pegasustonans (589396) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:26PM (#9011881)
    Well, it depends on the genre, but Japanese games usually have much more involving stories (in terms of identifiable plot-points & a sense of evolution/progression) than American ones. Then again, one could argue that many such storylines are too linear and don't give the player enough choices. But more and more Japanese games are providing multiple endings & etc... Overall it looks like a good trend for the industry to follow.
  • by rice_burners_suck (243660) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:27PM (#9011900)
    Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne has been recognized by many people with their heads screwed on straight as a benchmark in video-game storytelling.

    Actually, for me, the benchmark in video-game storytelling is Leisure Suit Larry, from Sierra On Line. That d00d is my hero.

  • Lost in Gameplay (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jack Zombie (637548)
    (...) Sometimes, with all the innovative development and cool graphics the actual story a game has to tell can get lost in the shuffle.

    With Max Payne, I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Only game where the story justified the gameplay was Half-Life, and I really can't think of any other videog that reaches its level.
  • by WwWonka (545303) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:29PM (#9011931)
    I think the greatest video story ever told was that of the lonely hungry yellow orb with eyeballs. Always running from his past, devouring the needed fuel to keep him going and learning life as he traveled the mazes of unpredictability. Chased by the undead that could never understand his ideology nor motives only to cause this lost soul to consume a secret drug like substance that multiplied his anger and made him insanely aggressive for short uncontrollable periods of time. It is a story of a journey that will never subside and never end.

    Oh, and he liked to eat fruit.
  • by WinnipegDragon (655456) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:30PM (#9011941)
    This is one of those schisms that I have no idea how to deal with in gaming. First of all, the more storyline there is, generally the more linear the gameplay is. Max Payne had an interesting story, but little freedom.

    On the other hand you have games like Morrowind. Great sense of freedom and that contributed to the quality of it's gameplay. As a side-effect, the storyline was easily mangled, and you could break the main quests by doing things out of order, going to where you shouldn't be too early, etc...

    Until we reach a point where the hardware is powerful enough that programmers can create an adaptive enough AI, Storyline will just be a euphemism for 'railroading'.

  • Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone (681598) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:30PM (#9011949)
    The basic problem is that video games are a poor format for story telling. Good stories require fine control of plot, pacing, character, setting and theme. The more control is given to the player, the less control the writer has over the elements of good story telling.

    That said, there are a number of ways a good writer could dramatically improve the quality of numerous video games, and help improve various genres. Most publishers now take great delight in emphasizing the total lack of literature in their products.

    If video games are to truly become meaningful, then they must convey meaning.
    • Re:Problem (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Grey Ninja (739021)
      I disagree. I don't think that a movie watcher can really connect with the character on the screen. When playing a game, it's entirely different, as you assume the role of that character.

      Think of Silent Hill for a good example. The story is subliminal, and very twisted. You really get inside the heads of the main characters, and of course you feel genuine fear at times, as save points are few and far between, and there's a giant piece of unknown territory between you and that save point.

      If you ask
    • Re:Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

      by _|()|\| (159991)
      The basic problem is that video games are a poor format for story telling.

      It's a new field with no masters, but I I hope you're wrong. Consider the Kuleshov effect, described in Hamlet on the Holodeck, as follows:

      Lev Kuleshov demonstrated that audiences will take the same footage of an actor's face as signifying appetite, grief, or affection, depending on whether it is juxtaposed with images of a bowl of soup, a dead woman, or a little girl playing with a teddy bear.

      I seem to recall one of the Mappl

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I used to think story didn't matter much at all in games. I liked twitch games (arcade, FPS, action, etc). For these kinds of games, story isn't all that welcome unless it's integrated into your experience, say in the way Half Life did it. (That was a milestone in interactive story telling right there, without ever taking away interaction to do it).

    Over time, we've seen genres of games which, if it weren't for the pretty graphics, there'd be no real reason to play them. Thankfully, it's a genre that has ma
  • Metal Gear Solid... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DiZASTiX (461280) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:34PM (#9011997)
    I've said it before and I'll say it again, the story to Metal Gear Solid is amazing. I dont know how they thought it up but it just blows you away. I know I was completley suprised when I finished the game for the first time. I would have to say the best plot/story in a game has to be MGS. The original, for the playstation, didn't have great graphics but who cares, the game was awesome and so wasn't the story. They eventually did a remake on Gamecube and others called Twin Snakes, same game, redone. Better graphics and still a great story. Anways, MGS originally was released 1998 and I havn't seen a game with that good of a story since then.
  • Planescape: Torment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by asdren (35537) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:34PM (#9012006)
    I likd Max Payne 2, it was a fun game and I do like the graphic novel approach but the dark noir dialogue is really pretty cheesy. Good thing they don't take themselves too seriously.

    But for an excellent game with a story behind it how about one that begins:

    I remember dying. Not how, when or why, but the cold fact alone: dying. I look around, there are dead bodies lying around. But they certainly don't seem to remember much. Come to think of it, the dead are not suppose to remember dying. Death is the ultimate, finale fate. How come, then, that I breath? How come I feel cold, and afraid, and disoriented? And what comes next? Death is supposed to be the end, no one trains you on "what to do" while you're at it. Maybe I should just lay still, maybe...

    "Come on chief, get up, hurry!" It's an annoying voice, which startles me. More so, the fact that it comes from a floating, whirling skull doesn't help. "What?" and my own voice seems rasp, and strange to me. "What are you waiting for? get UP! we hafta get outta here!" again, the floating skull urges me to do something the dead are not supposed to do.

    I comply, if for nothing else, because it makes as much sense as any other action. The dead, you know, are definitely not supposed to get up. "Boy, they sure tore you up good this time, you look even uglier than before" says the skull. They? this time? Before? Inside of me, ignorance and darkness are no longer fueling fear. There is another sentiment, a not so new one that grows within: rage.

    It is right there, right then, in that dark, foul and creepy place, that I make a decision. I will do another thing that the dead are not supposed to: I will fight to remember my life.
  • I'm in research and development at a well-known video game company, and among the many areas that we conduct research in to make games better, ranging from graphics to human physiology, the art of storytelling is surprisingly one of them. There have been many strides made in allowing computers to assist the game developer in storyline creation and extension, even on the fly.

    Many modern implementations of computer-generated narrative -- video games being no exception -- are built from large, preset blocks

  • The Getaway (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mccalli (323026) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:38PM (#9012059) Homepage
    The game that held my attention with a plotline most recently has been The Getaway on the PS2.

    I have two kids and work to contend with, so I rarely get a chance to play games these days. I often ignore story-based games for this reason: no time to finish the story. Zelda: The Wind Waker fell victim to this, Resident Evil, Prince of Persia...lots that are considered to be good by most people's standards (though I had other reasons for dumping Resident Evil too - let me know when they've got a reasonable save system and controls that don't involve walking into every wall, would you?).

    But The Getaway passed the test with flying colours. A good plot, great soundtrack, good graphics and lots of tension. Can't knock it - I thoroughly recommend this game to anyone. Very much looking forward to The Getaway 2 which has been announced.

    Cheers,
    Ian

    • I often ignore story-based games for this reason: no time to finish the story. Zelda: The Wind Waker fell victim to this, Resident Evil, Prince of Persia...

      Ironically, all three of these games are notoriously short. Resident Evil, for example, can be completed within a matter of hours.
  • by LilMikey (615759) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:39PM (#9012074) Homepage
    A movie storyline... Jeez... I wish they'd get a clue and stop trying to rip movies directly-to-game. Movies are designed to tell a story, Games are designed to put you in a story...

    If anything they should be going the other way!
  • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:41PM (#9012106)
    Geek: I'll take "Suicidal Web Administrators" for $100, CowboyAlex.

    CowboyAlex: The answer is:

    There seems to have been a slight problem with the database. Please try again by pressing the refresh button in your browser.

    An E-Mail has been dispatched to our Technical Staff, who you can also contact if the problem persists.

    Geek: What are the two Stupidest Possible Things a web server can be programmed to do during a Slashdotting?

    CowboyAlex: Correct for $100, go again, geek!

  • I guess Baldur's Gate was just a graphics orgy with no plot or development.
  • by sammy baby (14909) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:43PM (#9012135) Journal
    ...unfortunately, I'm not sure it was all positive. I'm quite certain that one of the hospital scenes in MP2 was the first time I thought to myself, "Enough of the fucking back story already. I want to play!"

    The Max Payne team, and Sam Lake in particular, should be commended for bringing a level of depth to the story that most games in the genre have never even attempted. But there are a lot of people who believe that all that great story came at the price of disrupting the balance between exposition and gameplay. Plus, there are plenty of people who thought that the story just sucked [penny-arcade.com].

    On a side note: anyone else notice the resemblance between Max Payne story author Sam Lake [jivemagazine.com], and Mr. Needs a Maalox himself [rockstargames.com]?
  • Not all of them need awesome storylines to have great playability:

    Zelda: Guy has girl, Guy loses Girl. Guy must find Girl.
    Mario: Guy has girl, Guy loses Girl. Guy must find Girl.
    Gauntlet: Shoot stuff. Shoot stuff. Shoot stuff. Archer needs food. Shoot stuff. Shoot stuff.

    What about games with ridiculous "stories" like:

    Pac-Man: What story is there here? Yellow dot eats little dots, runs away from colored ghosts.
    Asteroid: White triangle shoots at lined objects with a line.

    Not all great games need a
  • This is a serious question: I'd like to know what people feel are the strongest qualities of the Max Payne 2 story. Is it the narration? The characterization? The pacing?

    It isn't uncommon to hear how the story in Max Payne 2 is a great example of storytelling (as in the blurb on Slashdot), but I'd like to know just what it has that, say, Silent Hill 2 didn't have. Or Metal Gear Solid. Or Wasteland. Or even Resident Evil 2.

    Thanks in advance.
  • by Pollux (102520) <speter AT tedata DOT net DOT eg> on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:50PM (#9012232) Journal
    Warning: mysql_connect(): Too many connections in /home/www/jivemagazine/forum/admin/db_mysql.php on line 40

    There seems to have been a slight problem with the database.
    Please try again by pressing the refresh button in your browser.
    An E-Mail has been dispatched to our Technical Staff, who you can also contact if the problem persists.

    We apologise for any inconvenience.


    Poor tech staff. Let's see here, I've tried to reload the page three times, so that's four emails from me alone...multiply that by maybe 100,000 slashdot users...

    Man, I know that the web server takes a bad enough beating, but I never knew we could slashdot the mailserver also!
  • Sojourn Development (Score:3, Informative)

    by ejito (700826) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @04:51PM (#9012254)
    Sojourn Development's [sojdev.com] take on storytelling:
    On the surface the intent is simple: to create rich, compelling worlds.


    In a world without adequate depth, story will suffer. When story suffers, gameplay suffers. The goal at Sojourn Development is to elevate the art and craft of gaming to a truly immersive level, to leverage the capabilities of technology to deepen the players' experience with the story, to give them the tools to write their own, to let them forge their own world within the ones we bring to life.

    The trajectories of artistic expression and entertainment are drawing close to one another. The development of online worlds offers exciting possibilities: art, entertainment, and community have the opportunity to meld into a form far more engaging than those we can imagine at this point. Sojourn Development views its efforts as a step or two along this path.
    Their current project is glympse [sojdev.com]:
    Sojourn Development is currently developing a first-person, massively-multiplayer online role playing game under the working title "Glympse" (formerly known as "Chivalry"). All of the company's efforts and resources are going into this massive undertaking.


    Tens of thousands of players will adventure simultaneously in the world of Glympse, writing their own stories through their actions in the game, weaving them into the fabric of a much larger tale. They will discover the stories of those who come before them, and leave their own for those who come behind. They will gather together for strength in massive numbers, they will decide to go it alone ... they will move through the world of Glympse according to their own designs.
  • Now THAT was a good story line for a video game, back in the good-ole-days when text was good enough for us, on a single-digit mhz 8bit.
  • Man I've been screaming this for a while. Ico was amazing - everyone should buy a Playstation 2 and a copy of Ico. There is almost a complete lack of dialog, except for a few sentences. The main characters don't even speak the same language.

    It's a pretty game. It has a good story. And it's simple. Very much fun.
    • I'd love to play Ico, but I'm sure as hell not running out to buy a Playstation 2 at $180 for a single game when I already have an XBox and Gamecube.

      If it's really all that great, they should port it, damnit. ;)
  • Nuff said.

    But let me elaborate anyway. What makes a story good? Forshadowing, suprises, interesting plot, character development... CT has all those. But what really makes a good story great is highly empathic characters. That's the critical component.
  • Bungie's Macintosh masterpiece from the mid 1990's.

    The story was deep, multi-threaded, and enjoyable to discover via the game. The DOS-boys were just shooting/killing with Doom, but those of us blessed to drive a Mac were really getting into a fine storyline while were participated in wholesale slaughter. Yeah, we even did it with one-button mice!

    Huge, well researched websites [bungie.org] exist just to study the *storyline* of the original game.

    If you want the two page "Cliffs Notes" version, it is here [bungie.org], though

  • Now that game had a story line...bang as many as you can!
  • Specifically in RPGs. I loved the old NES games- Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy (the FIRST ONE), because they had plot- but not really any story to speak of. They were fun, as any personality the characters had existed solely in my own mind. As technology and capacity advanced, RPGs changed from being open-ended objective-based games into interactive novels, and are, in my opinion, the worse for it. Largely because interactive novels like FF7 and FF8 are being marketed as RPGs. Bit of an annoyance, e
  • by Performer Guy (69820) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @05:57PM (#9013012)
    I am a game programmer right now, and some of the game designers I've worked with were obsessed with the frikin' story. So much so that they were terrified by any kind of freeplay, they wanted to control every event and sequence of events in the game. In other words they didn't have a clue about game design. Many game designere aspire to be film producers or do something cinematic, they should get the hell off of game teams and go do it instead of inflicting their ego on game buyers and game companies. It's not about the story stupid, it's about the game. Story is fine so long as it isn't rigid and doesn't get in the way of making a great game.
  • by Myself (57572) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @06:00PM (#9013051) Journal
    Star Control 2 [gamespy.com] tops my list. The first game was just a shootemup with a little empire-building (think SRE in 3D), but the second one was a moving story played out with a wide cast of characters, intermingled with plenty of action and a vast puzzle.

    The storyline starts out simply enough: As one of the descendents of a lost human expedition, marooned on a distant planet for generations, your return home is a shock for both sides. Earth along with dozens of other planets has been enslaved by an advancing alien empire bent on galactic domination. They're clever, powerful, and allied with all the right (or wrong) folks.

    Thrown into the mix is a third player, the subjugated workers of the master alien race, who spun off and are now committed to simple extermination. Their story is compelling, a tragic tale of conquest, psychic enslavement, triumph, and resolution: Races other than their own cannot be trusted, and must be 'cleansed'.

    In the twenty thousand years of our Mission we have heard more pleas for mercy than you can possibly imagine. Civilizations which saw their doom before them called upon their geniuses to calm us, to no avail. ... You are not our enemy. We have NO enemy beyond the Kzer-Za, our partners in the eternal conflict. You are simply... a spore, a seed. Today you are nothing... insignificant. But if allowed to bloom and grow someday... someday, you might represent a threat to our freedom and security. So we cleanse.

    Some of the other races are positively fascinating, particularly the pyrophilic fungus with the capability to consciously modify its genetic makeup.

    I have chosen my offsprings' memories carefully from my set of remembrances, the sweet and warm times of my existence and those of my parents' parents' parents, the bits of a million lifetimes coalesced into a birth gift of complete awareness.

    As the story progresses, you learn of the interdimensional meddlings of a mysterious race that has apparently had occasional contact with humans for thousands of years. They are aloof but benevolent, referring to themselves as being from "above", and warn you about dealing with the other interdimensionals from "below". But guess whose participation is necessary to win the game!

    There are even occasional encounters with space probes, misprogrammed so that they identify every object as a potential source of raw material for replication. This includes you and your ship, so prepare to be broken down into your component elements. Combat is fast-paced and easy to learn, but every ship has its strengths and weaknesses.

    The music in the game plays a part in making it so enjoyable, too. While most games of the time were using cheesy FM synthesized music with occasional wave effects, Star Control 2's soundtrack is 4-channel MOD files, written by a variety of composers from around the world. This bloated the game onto a massive 4 floppies, but anyone who's played it will tell you the few minutes spent copying the files to the hard drive was well worth the effort. Each race has its own music that comes up during a conversation, and the pieces are incredibly well chosen. Trusty allies sound noble, despicable foes sound menacing. The weird fungus music is eerie but pleasant to listen to, and downright funky in parts.

    There are moments of hilarity, sex, confusion, negotiation, sympathy, and plenty of downright evil. All in all, Star Control 2 has far and away the most engaging and moving storyline of any game I've played. I think that might be because it was designed by two incredibly dedicated guys who wouldn't settle for anything less than excellence. When management wanted to release the game as a shootemup with a bit of storyline, Fred and Paul took an unauthorized jaunt to Alaska and returned with a nearly finished version of the game we now know and love.

    The best part is that while the name "star control" is s

  • Nethack (Score:4, Funny)

    by tttonyyy (726776) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @06:22PM (#9013277) Homepage Journal
    Let us not forget our roots; the battle of @ against &.

    An epic story of the struggle between good and evil.
  • by TheLoneDanger (611268) on Thursday April 29, 2004 @06:37PM (#9013429)
    Now, I'm not saying that there shouldn't be any story in a game, far from it, I like stories in games, but the most memorable story is the one that you create by yourself while playing the game.

    For example, in Deus Ex, which had its own great story, I created my own story by the way I played it. The first time I played through, I would knock out UNATCO agents, until it became more difficult and I started killing them. Then, in France, you actually meet the parents of a UNATCO agent, and the father gives you info you can use against them. If you keep bugging him he says something like: "I've helped you kill my own son, isn't that enough for you?" For the rest of that level I only used tranquilizer darts on the agents. Sometimes, I play through killing everybody, or only harming those who actually attack me.

    This can be applied to other games in other ways, like when you grow attached to characters besides the main ones and use them all the time (RPG, strategy games), and even your style in a fighting game (say if you performed a particularly cool combo in a certain situation, or if you can use moves no one else does effectively). The more actions that a game allows you to use to overcome its obstacles, the more you can tell your own story in the game. Thus while there's a larger more linear story going one, you define your own little story by the way you play. The more (effective) actions you have at your disposal, the more "nuanced" the player-created "story" is.

    Story is great, but great gameplay allows those who don't like the story (because it's bad or just not to their taste) to enjoy themselves anyway. Focussing on gameplay before story will still result in beter sales.
  • I actually was surprised that Starcraft (a bit less so about NOLF) wasn't mentioned as a definite benchmark in storytelling. I mean, talk about a story that drew you in and actually made you care about the characters in a RTS game no less! I still remember the chills I got from Tassadar sacrificing himself to destroy the overmind....and the mixed feelings about the metamorphosis of Kerrigan. I simply HAD to complete each level to move the story forward...combined with each scenario making sense within th

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