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Games Need More Artfully Story-Entwined Gameplay 145

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the more-than-just-gibs dept.
Movie and Game writer Justin Marks has written an impassioned plea for the industry to concentrate more on artfully story-entwined gameplay, exploring what he thinks major titles are missing these days. "But for the most part, we as an industry are stuck in the same trap that GTA exemplifies. We value narratives in games, we understand their purpose and their necessity, and yet we have no idea how to parse them effectively into the game's interactive structure. As technology gets better, the weaknesses of poor story integration are more exposed."
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Games Need More Artfully Story-Entwined Gameplay

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:23AM (#23638881)
    How about artfully Gameplay-entwined stories?

    Think: Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Grim Fandango.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      That's what he's referring to, that the story needs to come from the gameplay. Having a machete out in GTA while on a date should, by all rights, change the way that the date plays out. Cut scenes, etc, just remove us from the game and make the story and the game separate entities. TFA is saying that the two need to be the same thing.

      In my opinion, the biggest problem is that there needs to be a reward for staying with the main story. In an open world (I'm thinking morrowing, oblivion, and GTA here), the
      • by Cruciform (42896) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:14PM (#23639623) Homepage
        Accidentally firing a gun in GTA definitely ruins the date. Michelle got pissed at me, called me a freak, and ran off.

        The problem was that I couldn't actually put the damn thing away. For some reason the weapon switch stopped working, and I was walking around on the date with the gun out. I thought it might be a graphical glitch and pressed the fire button, but alas, I unloaded in the middle of the street.

        Maybe I should have went to TW@ and ordered some little pills online.
        • by dintech (998802) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:23PM (#23639779)

          but alas, I unloaded in the middle of the street.
          This usually ruins most dates.
          • by nuzak (959558)
            ELAINE: He took it out.
            JERRY: He what?
            ELAINE: He took ... it out.
            JERRY: He took what out?
            ELAINE: It.
            JERRY: He took It ... Out?
            ELAINE: Yessiree Bob.
            JERRY: He couldn't.
            ELAINE: He did.
            JERRY: Well you were involved in some sort of amorous--
            ELAINE: Noooo.
            JERRY: You mean he just--
            ELAINE: Yes.
            JERRY: Are you sure?
            ELAINE: Oh quite.
            JERRY: There was no mistaking it?
            ELAINE: Jerry.
            JERRY: So you were talking, you're having pleasant conversation, then all of sudden--
            ELAINE: Yea.
            JERRY: It.
            ELAINE: It.
            JERRY: Out.
            ELAINE: Out.
        • That's ok, let her whine. Later on, you get girlfriends who actually have benefits, instead of just dating you. Once you get the lawyer who can clear your wanted level... how can Michelle possibly compete?
      • by Amouth (879122)
        while it has a limited view for interaction - the Hitman and SOF seiries did a great job of this.. make a noise here be see with x there.. it changed the environment - either making things easier or harder.. i agree it didn't change the overall storyline.. but rather jsut how you progressed in it..

        but they both did alot better than most of the stuff you see out there today
      • That's what he's referring to, that the story needs to come from the gameplay.... Cut scenes, etc, just remove us from the game and make the story and the game separate entities. TFA is saying that the two need to be the same thing.
        I'm not convinced yet that they can be "the same thing" -- after all, physics is very different than textures and artwork. There are, and will always be, different aspects of the game that are not the same thing.

        The trick is, weaving the story into the game, rather than making it a completely separate entity. Take Half-Life 2 -- there were no cutscenes, but occasionally you'd be forced to sit around and watch characters interact -- the simple fact that you could still walk around and explore made it that much more immersive.

        But I think it goes farther than that, and I've pretty much only seen Valve get it right, though I suspect others have come close: Tell the story without ever stopping the game. Being trapped in a room while Barney, Alyx, and Dr. Kleiner talk to each other is pretty much a cutscene -- it may not stop the gameplay, but it does stop the game.

        A good example: The original Half-Life. A few scripted sequences, and a few items left lying around the environment, but after the initial experiment gone wrong, the story was pretty much told within the actual gameplay. I'm talking about things like finding the Houndeye kennels, and the shark tank, thus showing you that this isn't the first time we've seen these aliens. Or the Barney who wanted to tell you something (and was then shot by a ninja). Or the Marines who you think are coming to rescue you, and then they start shooting scientists.

        Or the final boss battle -- nobody told you that was a boss battle, and there was pretty much no dialog at that point, but you knew. And the headcrab boss -- just looking at the thing, you understand that this is where headcrabs come from -- again, no dialog.

        There are other neat tricks -- in Portal, many of the same things above are used, as well as the constant voice of GlaDOS -- which never really stops you from moving through the game. Narration is fine, but this isn't a cutscene.

        There was even some custom Half-Life (1) map which told an interesting story using nothing but the computer in the HUD. Not as developed a plot, but scolding the player for moving through the normal storyline...

        Note: All of the above games are pretty much linear. It's not that I don't want games to be on rails. It's that either way, the story can be told without pulling you out of the game. Cutscenes are movies, and Half-Life 2 "cutscenes" are basically 3D movies. Half-Life (original) and Portal are games with actual plots.
      • Cut scenes, etc, just remove us from the game and make the story and the game separate entities. TFA is saying that the two need to be the same thing.

        Course, if the game industry ever really does drop cutscenes altogether, I might have to quit playing games. I have yet to see a game which shows that storytelling, without cutscenes, can come anywhere near the story immersion that cutscenes provide.

        Thankfully, a great many companies seem to get this, so I'm not too worried.

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      You know, everyone brings up Grim Fandango, but man... have any of you people actually PLAYED it? The premise of the story was neat, but the actual story was mediocre at best. At parts, you felt better off begging a rectal exam from a ungentle robot than pushing through the game. It just wasn't that fun. Now, Monkey Island 1, 2, and especially 3 were great games with a story that kept you wanting to play it. The Dig was another good one. BUT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET GRIM FANDANGO R.I.P.

      On a side note, my wi
    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:48AM (#23639279) Journal
      Or better yet, think Monkey Island, Kings Quest, or even Planetfall [wikipedia.org]. Adventure games and Interactive Fiction have been around for decades. They pretty much disappeared in the late 90s, and now they're complaining that the game industry doesn't know how to work a good story into a game? They had the expertise, but they squandered it. Sierra was bought and killed. Lucasarts became the Star Wars studio.

      It's a real shame, and it bothers me that people are spinning this like a need for a story in a game is a new thing. It's not. The industry dug themselves this hole. If they want to get out of it, they need to go give Ken and Roberta Williams a few millions dollars and bring back the adventure game.
      • by cp.tar (871488)

        I'd like to add Planescape: Torment to the list.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Cruciform (42896)
          Planescape: Torment was less like a story and more like one of Tolkien's reference books. You could spend 30 minutes at a time going through dialog that fleshed out the game universe but which contributed nothing to the story.

          Still, one of the coolest CRPGs ever.
      • by KillerBob (217953) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:13PM (#23639621)
        Loved the King's Quest and Space Quest games. Liked Police quest as well... but those games were very linear. More recently, there's games like The Longest Journey and its sequel, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and also Advent Rising. There's also the NWN games, and the KOTOR series, just to name a few.

        But all of those games have exactly the same problem with them: they're linear. Stories are, by definition, linear (unless you count Choose Your Own Adventure). If you're going to tell a great story through a game, you either limit yourself to one or two possible plotlines/endings, making for a *very* linear game, or you take on the enormous task of plotting out every option in the multiverse that gets determined by every choice you can make in game.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Hatta (162192)
          Well maybe being linear isn't so bad if it allows one to tell a captivating story. Who cares if you can do anything you want if none of it has a meaningful effect on your character and those around him? Interactivity should be a means to draw the player into the game, not an end in itself. You get him vested in the story, and then tell your story.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by KillerBob (217953)
            Indeed. I absolutely loved every game I added to your list, in spite of some very badly designed game engines in two of the cases (Dreamfall, and Advent Rising). They're all games I still play.

            Put that into perspective a moment... I still play The Longest Journey. TLJ is a linear storyline, with zero branching at all, and its engine was already dated when it originally came out, in 1999. But the story it tells is so good, and so enthralling, that I can easily overlook those aspects and just enjoy myself.

            I'm
          • "Interactivity should be a means to draw the player into the game, not an end in itself"

            I'm sorry but I disagree entirely, gameplay is an end unto itself. The thing I've hated about Final fantasy 12 was that it completley takes the interactivity away from the user to such a degree you're babaysitting a robot, you're not a participant in the story so much as merely pushing a automated robotic dummy through the levels to the next cutscene.

            Or take god of war, what if god of war played like FF12? It wouldn't
        • by Anarke_Incarnate (733529) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:40PM (#23640049)
          the NWN games themselves sucked. The Baldur's Gate predecessors were far more involving from a storyline standpoint. The good thing about NWN, however, was that you could use the engine and build tools to create your own games. I HIGHLY recommend the Adam & Jamie games (No, nothing about Mythbusters)

          http://adamandjamie.com/nwn/ [adamandjamie.com]

        • A lot of people really enjoyed those "linear" games, and even back then they could have made more branches in the storyline (but in most cases, didn't , except for the rather amusing ways to fail in the sierra "quest") games.

          A book is linear. Television shows are generally linear. While dynamic entertainment may add to replace value, having a linear storyline that is *well told* is not a problem, it's just a difference in style.

          That being said, it doesn't take too much to add small changes to keep the g
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            The difference between games and TV/books is that they're interactive. If your actions don't change how the story plays out, or if there is only one thing to DO, then you've basically got gameplay that's separate from the story. Sure, the story may make you want to keep playing, but then the gameplay is just a means to watch a movie (and considering how badly some games are voice acted and animated, not a particularly good on).

            However, not until games can actually make your actions have actual, non-scr
          • A book is linear. Television shows are generally linear.

            Those media are typically simply consumed in a mostly (or in TV's case : definitely) passive way.

            As opposed to a game where the player are supposed to interact with the game.

            While dynamic entertainment may add to replace value, having a linear storyline that is *well told* is not a problem, it's just a difference in style.

            It's not a problem for enjoying *the story*. But it's a little bit less interesting to play, when you have the impression that you are basically watching a (very well acted) movie, where you have to press "Next>" once in while to see the rest (although I really loved Dreamfall, that's how I felt sometimes).

            Player enjoy having freed

        • by westlake (615356)
          But all of those games have exactly the same problem with them: they're linear.

          Half-Life is also linear - but what a journey it makes!

          The linear form allows you to build your characters, environments and environments with great care.

          You can change the pace - moving from intense physical action through more problem or puzzle oriented scenarios, or moments of comic relief. Side trails can be explored without losing momentum.

          The non-linear form will - in time - betray its own illusions. Stage sets and the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cyberon22 (456844)
        There are a lot of us out here. I figure you just support the companies and individuals who make the stuff you like, and try to spread the word about games you think are undervalued.

        Also - Tim Schafer is a rock star. I really enjoyed Psychonauts and highly, highly recommend it. Best story-driven game I've played in ages, which is strange since it's technically a platformer.
      • ...albeit more in europe than in the US

        - Funcom's (Norway) The Longuest Journey and DreamFall are nice example of a very well written narrative (by Ragnar Tornquist), and are considered as the major work which brought back the genre into interest.
        - Another prominent example is Benoit Sokal (France), who after doing the Syberia duology, founded his own game company White Bird Production which works on either adapting graphic novels from renown European artists or helping them create new worlds for the medium
    • by raddan (519638)
      How about less artfully-tortured English?
  • by Jafafa Hots (580169) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:25AM (#23638909) Homepage Journal
    In games like WOW, "missions" devolve into endless errand running. Traveling vast distances to get a blueberry to give to someone who then wants dough, then firewood, then kindling, all to bake a pie that you have to take to Peter Piper.

    That's why I quit WOW after a month. Endless running of errands interfered with by getting ganked by maxed out campers.

    • by SBacks (1286786)
      Then you either need to organize your quests better as to group all the traveling together, or simply skip those quests.

      And, if you don't like being ganked, then play on a PvE server.
    • Good comment (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Moryath (553296) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:53AM (#23639335)
      Unfortunately, for most games and programming structures, the "fedex quest" mindset is a result of the structure of the programming.

      Bethesda are great at trying to avoid this, and they spent a ton of time on it (compare the Morrowind to Oblivion engines, and see the designer commentary on all the work they had to do just to get the "watch a guy hide something" quest early in Morrowind to work right). But they still sometimes fall back on the trap.

      The basic problem is, for a quest/story mechanic to work, you need triggers. Somewhere in the game, there's a bit or routine that checks for X, Y, Z completion requirements. "Is X in inventory and talking to Bob selecting Dialog Option 3" make for a really easy set of variables to code for, and then the game flips the bit so that X is removed from inventory. Even quests that are "Go talk to person X" are really fedex quests - you're "carrying" a bit that signifies that you're on the quest and person X is who you need to talk to, thus when you talk to them, the appropriate dialog box (which probably wasn't available before) is opened up... you've just handed in the "plot coupon [tvtropes.org]" as it were.

      The better a programmer hides the triggers - making you hide somewhere (in-game) and spy on someone, or specifically avoid encounters to get a really good item or piece of info - the better and more seamless the story will seem. The underlying programming still needs those triggers, though.

      My suggestion? Stop buying crappy games like GTA, and go with games where the programmers put some thought into the storyline and making it fit better. The industry could survive just fine with a few less programmers making crappy movie-tie-in games (*coughIronmancough*) and a few more making really GOOD games like Thief or Oblivion.
      • Re:Good comment (Score:5, Insightful)

        by nuzak (959558) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:13PM (#23639609) Journal
        When you boil it right down, Frodo's quest in The Lord of the Rings was a fedex quest. Grendel was a boss, and Gilgamesh was largely an exploration mission after Enkidu died. Heck, the Iliad even had a stealth mission (not counting the horse).

        It's all in the presentation -- and WoW really tends to skimp on it. There's a "main quest" for most of the races, and some of the quest chains like Duskwood have real potential to be interesting, but when it's all told entirely in text popups and a few canned emotes, there's something lacking in the dramatic presentation department.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          It's all in the presentation -- and WoW really tends to skimp on it. There's a "main quest" for most of the races, and some of the quest chains like Duskwood have real potential to be interesting, but when it's all told entirely in text popups and a few canned emotes, there's something lacking in the dramatic presentation department.

          All true, but Blizzard squandered the stories even further by not completing them. The Undead story is quite interesting then quickly peters out. The Night Elves suffer nearly the same fate. Gnomes have no story, other than an instance anyone can run in their 30s. The Trolls have nothing but a tiny village in Durotar. The Tauren get a cool starting area then are dumped into the Barrens with everyone else. Humans and Orcs are the only two races with any semblance of a racial storyline because the othe

          • by nuzak (959558)
            Yeah, I forgot to mention the incompleteness. I started with a night elf, and was waiting for Crown of the Earth to go somewhere, but it never did. They might get their chance if they ever introduce the Emerald Dream (it would make sense to have to go into the Emerald Dream to fix Teldrassil's corruption), but my guess is it'll just be a few instances for Level 80 characters with bosses that wipe your group if you don't execute with millisecond precision.

            I should mention, I don't have any problem with usi
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by drsquare (530038)

          When you boil it right down, Frodo's quest in The Lord of the Rings was a fedex quest.
          And most of that was pages and pages of walking up and down: just like most MMOs.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by HiVizDiver (640486)
          Well, you can distill it right down even further (and I promise I'm not trying to be funny), but life itself is basically an endless series of Fedex quests. You are, in general, tasked with doing a series of things that someone else can't/won't do, that's what you get paid for. Even things you DON'T get paid for, like taking the kids to/from school, etc. The trick with games is, the programming/hardware/A.I. hasn't gotten powerful enough yet to mimic all the subtleties of a "real life" that make our everyda
          • But that's my point. I already have enough damned errands to run in real life... I don't want a game to just add to that list.
          • by maglor_83 (856254)

            all the subtleties of a "real life" that make our everyday routines not SEEM like Fedex quests.
            I work for Fedex you insensitive clod!
      • Re:Good comment (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rui del-Negro (531098) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @01:45PM (#23640971) Homepage

        Bethesda are great at trying to avoid this
        While they might be great at trying, they suck at actually achieving it.

        Oblivion and Morrowind feel dead, like worlds populated by robots, all saying exactly the same sentences (how hard would it have been to change the sentences slighty for each of the different voices...??) and all doing the same 3 or 4 meaningless actions over and over again.

        Then there are the hundreds of scripting bugs and inconsistencies (Oblivion was never actually play-tested before release - extensive playtesting is what made Half-Life great), a nonsensical game world (shared by NWN), where random crates and barrels spread all over the game world each contain half a dozen gold coins (sometimes with a beggar sitting right by the crate - why doesn't he grab the coins, and why are the crates and coins there anyway?), monsters that drop random objects (in Oblivion sometimes a wolf will drop a gold coin or a fork - WTF?), and so on. Baldur's Gate, despite a more consistent and interesting story, has an even more static world (NPCs standing on the exact same spot 24/7, etc.).

        It's really depressing that games made so recently, by huge teams, with several gigabytes of art and code, are so far behind a game like Ultima VII, in terms of immersion and game world consistency. You made more use of your brain just navigating the dialogues in Ultima VII than playing through Oblivion ("follow the arrow, click here, kill that monster, repeat"). The only bearable part of Oblivion was the Thieves' Guild quest line; the rest is just a good-looking (but clearly rushed) hack'n'slash game completely ruined by a bad story, bad scripting, and designed for 8-year-old Xbox players.

        Valve needs to bring toghether the people who made Ultima VII and System Shock 2 and show the industry what a real RPG / free-form adventure / world simulator looks like.

        • by Moryath (553296)
          in Oblivion sometimes a wolf will drop a gold coin or a fork - WTF?),

          You've obviously never seen the list of stuff they've found in shark stomachs. [elasmo-research.org] I don't find it at all beyond reason that a hungry predator might gobble down a coin or small metallic object along with its meal.
          • If you think wolves are likely to swallow forks along with their victims (which are mostly sheep, BTW), you obviously don't understand the difference in scale or sensitivity between a shark's throat and a wolf's, or the different ways in which mammals and fish chew their food. :-P

            No, the fork, like the gold coin, is simply being generated by a random "treasure script" that takes the type and "level" of the creature, the player's level, and generates "appropriate" treasure. In other words, if you kill the wo
      • The problem is that there aren't too many of them to choose from, and what's available is mostly meh.

        What's worse is that a LOT of the critically acclaimed games which had excellent stories ended up flopping which is really really sad (eg Anachronox, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, Psychonauts, etc) and has made story less of a priority for publishers.

    • by skeeto (1138903)
      That's why you should play a game like Progress Quest [progressquest.com]. You can level your character without clicking your mouse.
  • by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:28AM (#23638973)
    A lot of games will give you a long narrative about how important something is, how it must be achieved stealthily, how you need to go in, get something and get out again or spin a complex tail around which you play your mission.

    then it finishes and you turn to your buddy and say "so it's 'wade in and kill everything' like last time then?"

    OTOH, i like 'wade in and kill everything'. 'wade in and kill everything' is great.
  • All this talk of artfully story-entwined gameplay, yet no mention of Okami? Fail.
    • by Rycross (836649)
      I don't remember the story of Okami, or how it relates to the gameplay, being anything special.
    • by 7Prime (871679)
      That's because large segments of the slashdot community act as if Nipponese games don't even exist. I'm always interested to see how long it takes for Nipponese gaming to be brought up anytime american game makers start scratching their heads over narrative pitfalls in modern videogaming.

      See, the Nipponese don't have the same problems with narrative that US game makers have. They may have their own pitfalls, but I think there's much more acceptance of a creator expressing themselves through the game. Many w
  • Most videogame characters are so one-dimensional it's not funny. Assuming you even find characters with speaking roles, they're almost always cliches. Add onto that the fact that voice acting is generally sub par and it's awfully hard to see anything close to an artful story.

    Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines had some of the best writing and voice acting to ever hit the video games. Unfortunately, the game itself was obviously rushed (The developer went bankrupt right afterwards, sadly) and left with a la


    • Definitely not Oscar-caliber, but some of the richest, most nuanced characters ever seen in a video game.

      It CAN be done.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vertinox (846076)
      Most videogame characters are so one-dimensional it's not funny

      Eh. I think the best argument against this is Portal. You the player... Are mute, uknown, and have no backstory.

      In fact the only identifiable character throughout the entire game is GladOS (which I suppose counts as a character), the gun droids, and the unseen other player leaving clues about the situation. Oh and the companion cube could count as a character...

      But anyways... Portal's story wasn't about the character. You hardly really knew much
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 7Prime (871679)
      True, however be carefull about putting cliches down. Many wonderful characters have been created out of architypes and cliches. Most everyone you will meet in the world falls into one of about 5 different character architypes. Really, what's lacking is SUBTLETY in characters, not originality.

      The very best, most memorable characters throughout history, are ones that are built off of traditional architypes, but which the creators then used to mould a very complex persona. Games that strive for completely ORI
  • People are going to gripe about it regardless of what developers come up with. Other mediums follow the narrative pattern: songs, TV, movies, books. They all tell us the story, and we are passive for the most part, simply going where they take us.

    Games are different of course since we are in the story and interacting with the environment, but how else are they going to introduce the storyline? The narratives help us from having to go into every single building (where is that guy?) or reading every book
  • by SGDarkKnight (253157) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:40AM (#23639157)
    I still think the best story lines were in the classics for the PC such as the Kings Quest (except for the last one, too cartoony for my taste), Space Quest, Police Quest, hell even Leisure suit Larry had a half decent story line. In all those series, the only down fall was that the story line was linear, once you past a specific point, you couldn't go back, so if you missed a key component in the game, then you might have to go back to a save point and look for the missing item; but the story lines were great, Kings Quest and Space Quest being my favorites. One game that came out a few years later had a great story line (with Live Actors -- Mark Hamil was in it!) -- thats right, it was Wing Commander. The choices you made in the game affected how the sotry line turned out. As of late, I havn't seen too many games that had sotry lines like that which still incorporate a fairly good problem solving skills. Today it seems its mostly run here, run back there, then go back to the start, then do it all over again. I will admit, Half-Life 1/2/EP1/EP2 (and hopefully EP3) will continue with their story lines, I find them to be a good FPS with a nice story line and graphics to boot.
    • by 7Prime (871679)
      And what's wrong with a game being linear anyway? All other narrative mediums since the beginning of time have been linear and have achieved breathtaking results. What makes makes games so inferior that they "can't work" with linearity? Some of the greatest games of all time are incredibly linear, and couldn't have been so great had they not been.
  • It's hard enough for a human game master to keep up with his players' creativity and keep the story flowing. To truly integrate good story with open ended game play is hard. I'm not saying it will require true AI, but it will require rethinking the way stories are written.

    The key, I believe, is to write generic stories, and fill in the blanks with details generated during game play. For instance, instead of specifying a specific location where a scene takes place, specify what type of location and other elements necessary to trigger the scene, then when the players meet the criteria, the scene is triggered with the specific details coming from the environment, not the author.

    Same goes for characters, write them generically, and use appropriate game-generated character that meet the plot criteria instead of saying it has to be a certain person.

    As for plot, multi branching plot structures aren't really that hard, people have been doing it since the 50s in romance novels. The big publishers had a flowchart outlining the accepted plot possibilities and stables full of mediocre writers to fill in the details.

    The key is in understanding dramatic tension. You raise tension by posing meaningful questions and you lower it by answering them. In some sense, it doesn't matter what the questions are or how they are answered, only that they are meaningful to the reader. By using game generated specifics to ask the questions, and player choices to answer them, it becomes more likely the player will find the questions meaningful.

    So in a basic sense, one can look at a plot element as consisting of entry conditions, scene, props, characters, questions, and exit conditions. You specify what has to be true for the element to become active, what types of scene, characters and props are involved, what questions are asked, and what the possible outcomes are.

    But this is much harder than simply dictating what will happen in a story. And it guarantees that every player is going to miss some content. No writer likes to think they are writing something that might not even get read, but for dynamic stories to work, that is what has to happen.
    • You could basically take the Monomyth as the framework, create some "object oriented" interactions corresponding to the various available environments and bake.

      The trick is not to have the "object oriented" methods just be pixel and name swaps. Make the actual elements unique in not only surface presentation, but also in gameplay mechanics.
      • The monomyth, as appropriate for RPGs and as universal as it is, is only one (Daring Enterprise) basic dramatic situation, of which there are thirty six [wikipedia.org].

        If the game play mechanics are open ended enough, and the elements contain enough individualized characteristics, and there are enough connections between elements, then the elements will be unique. For instance, the author specifies 'big dumb fighter' as a necessary character for a scene in a tavern. The game searches through instantiated characters for one meeting the criteria, and it turns out that not only has the player interacted with a 'big dumb fighter' before, the fighter has a brother who is commander of the watch. This was not specified by the author, it just happens to be true in this particular instance of the game. Suddenly, the upcoming bar fight becomes a lot more interesting.
    • by 7Prime (871679)
      I understand you completely, but I'm also appalled at this perspective, because it removes almost all of the human element from the creation of the plot. Great works of art/entertainment stem from the connection and interplay between creator and audience. What you are suggesting is an almost systematic removal of the creator from this paradigm. This is dangerous, IMO. Have humans become so incapable of empathy that we prefer to interact with purely mathmatical formule? I sure hope not. And I don't believe w
      • by spun (1352)
        I think your interpretation is incorrect. The creator is still intimately connected to the plot. There is no mathematical formula. The creator simply creates on a higher level. Rather than specifying the details, the creator is free to specify the meaning, the theme, the pace, and the types of dramatic questions posed. The game does the boring work of filling in the details based on the previous experiences of the players.

        Some creators want to dictate to their audience the exact nature of the experience. Ot
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by 7Prime (871679)

          The game does the boring work of filling in the details based on the previous experiences of the players.

          Boring work? The details are where the ART is, in anything. That's where the creator gets to express themselves, and where they audience gets to connect with the creator. The details are what makes a work of narrative: human.

          I see linear game play is an attempt by creators, fundamentally uncomfortable with the loss of control inherent in the new media, to shoehorn old story telling conventions into a new

          • by spun (1352)
            No, what I am suggesting broadens the realm of possibility of creation, allowing new forms of creativity, participation and interaction. It allows a creator to be more like a game master in a table top RPG than like a mere writer of linear plots. It gives the creator and audience the ability to explore many different possibilities, not just one.

            In some sense, in a video game, the player is the performer and the author is the composer.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by 7Prime (871679)

              In some sense, in a video game, the player is the performer and the author is the composer.

              But I don't have any interest in being the "performer" in a video game. I lead a very creative life as it is. I'm a video producer by profession, I have a band and am a composer. I play games along side reading books, watching movies, and listening to other peoples' music.

              It's not that I want to be lazy, but I want to be intellectually and emotionally stimulated. I want to take on the roll of "explorer" not "performer

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by spun (1352)
                No one is saying that the linear, author directed narrative has to disappear from video games. For one thing, it's the most economical.

                The only reason that sandbox games are disconnecting and unempathic is because they are built that way. You should check out the work of Brenda Laurel, she is a pioneer in the field of computer/human interaction and started a game company for girls that focused on realistic emotional situations and responses. Way ahead of its time, unfortunately.

                Written correctly, even singl
              • "I generally feel like sandboxy games are unhealthy because they promote even more disconnection and unempathetic thinking."

                I'd gladly pay a small fortune to have been the one to say that wonderful line. Congratulations! I wholeheartdly agree.

                All this no-goals, open-endedness just means putting savages in a world where they can play god. And they do it the old bestial gods way. It really doesn't matter putting enough detail and whatever when people enter the game just to shoot everything and behave like
  • Oh please (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:46AM (#23639237)
    If I wanted artful stories, I'd read a book. All I want to do is chainsaw zombies, preferably on a Wii.
    • If that is your response, then it is clear that you didn't read the article (surprise, surprise -- this is Slashdot, after all). The point of the article was that there are a lot of games out there where the claim is that there is a great story, but that you can skip the story without altering the gameplay experience. Thus, the story doesn't add to gameplay, and may actually detract from it. His argument was that if a game is to have a story, then that story should be more tightly integrated into gamepla
      • by oodaloop (1229816)
        Hey, I was just going for +1 Funny, not +5 Insightful. I'm a much bigger reader than gamer, but when I play I'm all for mindless violence. The attempts at plot and story are usually so contrived that I simply ignore them. Sometimes I just want to see how much gold I can carry, or if I can get all blue magic items, or to beat my last time finishing a level. They can keep their silly plot.
  • by EricR86 (1144023) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:48AM (#23639277)

    Title fixed.

    Seriously, I'm all up for well told stories in a game, but when it interferes with the game and game mechanics it has the potential to make the gameplay seriously suffer. And if the story is only so-so, then the entire game sucks that much more (and why have the story in the first place?)

    If you have a story to tell that needs to be told interactively, a game is a great medium to do it in. If you have a story to tell where the audience is supposed to mainly watch and listen, make a movie. If you have an indepth story with deep characters, a huge plotline, where no interaction is really necessary - write a novel. And if you have NONE of the above, reconsider what you're making story-wise. Your medium is your message after all.

    There really seems to be some sort of confusion about what medium a story should be told in.

    • If you have a story to tell that needs to be told interactively, a game is a great medium to do it in. If you have a story to tell where the audience is supposed to mainly watch and listen, make a movie. If you have an indepth story with deep characters, a huge plotline, where no interaction is really necessary - write a novel. And if you have NONE of the above, reconsider what you're making story-wise. Your medium is your message after all.

      Counterexample: Final Fantasy 7, which, for my money, is the best damn game ever made, even though it has the type of story you say should fit a movie. The gameplay is fun, but the story is what truly makes the game excel. Gameplay is not, in my opinion, the be-all end-all of games like people say it is. It's one element in a diverse collection.

      • by EricR86 (1144023)

        Final Fantasy 7 was one of those games for me that I would seriously question on whether or not I was actually having fun amidst an admittedly somewhat interesting story line. The actual "game" portion which involved either running around doing mini quests (like dressing up as a girl) or doing battles which were, in my opinion, okay at best. Do you find doing battles fun or is it just gratifying to level up and "grind" your characters for higher powers?

        There was some cool story-oriented parts that you could

        • I do consider the battles fairly fun, yeah. But all in all, FF7 isn't a game I'd ever hold up as a shining example of what great gameplay is (it's great RPG gameplay, but RPGs have the weakest gameplay element of all genres, in my experience)... it's a great, great story though, which is why I rate the game so highly overall.

          My point is just that, for me at least, an excellent story can trump mediocre gameplay. Conversely, excellent gameplay can trump a mediocre story just as well (GTA 3, hell, all GTA ga

  • by SetupWeasel (54062) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:53AM (#23639341) Homepage
    Yes, they, as an industry, might value narrative and believe it is necessary, but I'm not so sure we, as the players, are all that sold on it. Sure, you have your die hard JRPG fans darting from cutscene to cutscene, but I think most of us playing a game like to write our own stories.

    Most gamers like to talk about what they did in the game. Narrative fucks that up to some extent, and is nearly always at odds with the player's goals for the game thereby breaking the illusion they hope to set up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zelos (1050172)
      I think that was kind of the point of the article. If you mention narrative to gamers they generally think of cutscenes, but cutscenes are separate from the game so you end up with this split between "doing stuff" and the story.

      A better approach is to mix the two together such that what you do in game *is* the story.
  • When I'm playing Mario and having fun, I don't think the game suffers from a) the most racist video game character ever (Mama Mia!) b) really wacked out plot lines (star bits? lumas? ray surfing? bee suits?). It's just fun.

    And that's what video games need to be. If they have a great interactive story, so be it.
  • by Alzheimers (467217) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @11:59AM (#23639409)
    It's pretty obvious to anyone with a Playstation 3 what games need:

    More Cutscenes. [joystiq.com]
  • by sherriw (794536) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:07PM (#23639531)
    I would be easy for games to start small in this direction. If you even take very linear story driven games like the HalfLife series, you could still throw in more game driven narrative. Suppose, you have a tendency to throw things at Alex (a female NPC who joins you for some of the game), she should become less friendly because you're being 'a jerk' to her. Or if you fail to keep the enemies away from her, maybe she should become too injured or shaken-up to be much help for the next little while.

    Even games like Zelda where you get a visual of time passing (day and night) and weather make a big difference. In HL, I can stand outside for ever and the sun never moves in the sky. Wasting time crow-bar-ing boxes should mean... oh crap, now I have to fight the zombies in the dark!

    In GTA, you can be the biggest crime boss/bad-ass but the NPCs never react differently to you (I haven't played the more recent GTA games, if this has changed). If I have a rocket launcher in my hands, or a reputation for evil... the NPC should react to me- flee, faint, turn away, refuse to serve me, etc.

    Little things like this would go a long way.
  • Non Issue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DreadPiratePizz (803402) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:08PM (#23639541)
    I don't think this is a problem. Story doesn't have to be entwined with gameplay at all.

    As a developer, what do you want to do with a game? If your first and foremost goal is to tell a story, then do just that. Use cutscenes or other non interactive elements. Use interactive elements. Use whatever. If it best tells your story, do it. It's a fallacy to think that the story must be interactive. Interactive story presentations and non interactive ones both have strengths and weaknesses. A game that really wants to tell a story will not be afraid to use both where appropriate.

  • by Cathoderoytube (1088737) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @12:20PM (#23639739)
    Why would game developers bother with any sort of meaningful or halfway decent stories? Their core audience believes Naruto is masterful storytelling, and they've never read a book in their entire lives. With an audience like that you just need to give them the ability to call people noobs during gameplay, and they're happy as pigs in shit. Just look at the whole Halo series.
    • "Their core audience believes Naruto is masterful storytelling"

      Naruto is good story telling, just because it's not to your tastes has no bearing on whether it is good storytelling or not. It's success most certainly tells you that it definitely IS. Not all of us grown ups 'grow up' (whatever that's supposed to mean anyway). And I would venture to imagine that anime watchers do MORE reading since many of them are reading subtitles of fansubbed anime. Just because you like to watch something, it has no be
  • Movies cost $7 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @01:09PM (#23640429) Homepage
    Here's the thing: a movie or a book (a story) costs $7. If you make the story the center of the game, the game is worth $7.

    For it to be worth $50, you have to give me something I want to play over and over again. Story is a nice accent for a game, but keep it in its proper place. Put the game play first and make sure that when the game play conflicts with the story it's the story that loses.

    The other thing is this: as a brilliant software architect, you are neither a brilliant writer nor a brilliant producer. Play it smart: play to your strengths.

  • by kellyb9 (954229) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @01:17PM (#23640535)
    Maybe, I like these games for their nostalgic value, Mario, Punch-Out, etc, but they did happen to hit the nail on the head. They did't have elaborate stories with 20 minute cut scenes, and if I played them today, I'd still find them highly enjoyable (infact I sometimes do). Regardless, what I want as gamer is more gameplay and less stories. Especially less cut scenes.
  • by Phrogman (80473) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @01:19PM (#23640553) Homepage

    What the original article and many people seem to be discussing mostly here is Narrative gameplay - where a storyline is created and more or less followed by the player one step at a time. It may be branching so that decisions made by the player - or failure to achieve specific goals - result in different outcomes, but at its core its still a railroad. You still follow one of the paths chosen by the developer who wrote the storyline in the end

    Emerging Gameplay is where the game sets conditions and possible actions, but leaves the path up to the player, and what happens emerges from the results of those actions. Most people don't see this as a "storyline" per se, but really what your character does becomes their story in the end. This style of game design is immensely complex to implement but is the only one that will result in truly dynamic and evolving gameplay. In most modern MMOs, the character is free to do whatever they want (subject to level restrictions for access to a zone etc) and thats all emerging gameplay, but when they take a quest or a mission, its essentially a mini-narrative in a lot of cases (say City of Heroes/Villains). As such the quests all start to look alike pretty quickly.

    Narrative gameplay will always be limited by the time and imagination of the developer/level designer/whatever and thus players will always be able to burn through the content pretty quickly, certainly far far faster than it can be developed

    Emerging gameplay has more potential. If a game could be developed with sufficient AI on the part of the NPC characters in the game such that they react to the conditions of the world, then we can see the potential for Emerging gameplay come into its own. If for instance in some fantasy world, kiling off all the mobs around a town made it easier for the NPC Bandit King to invade and conquer the town, and the AI for that entity was sufficient for it to recognize the condiditions under which that would be an advantageous action, then player actions collectively might result in a change to the game environment, even if its the unintentional result of many players individually hunting the mobs around that town because the pelts are worth selling. If each NPC could be imbued with defining characteristics to their character then perhaps the timid Bandit King might act less aggressively than the Driven Bandit King and killing the latter off might result in the former inheriting and not being able to keep control of the village etc. Then the quest to free the town is open to whichever group discovers the problem and decides they must fight their way to the Bandit Camp and defeat the leader there to break his hold on the bandits and thus their hold on the town etc. None of this would be scripted, it would all emerge from the conditions and characteristics inherent in the game design. This would happen when the conditions made it the viable choice for the NPCs involved. Beefing up the guard at the township might mean the whole bandit camp moves to some other area entirely etc.

    Thats what the next generation of MMOs needs to offer - or at least treat as their Holy Grail I think.

  • I simply don't get it. Games form an interactive medium. The story is what should emerge as a result of you playing the game, not be some ingredient that's stuffed in at the outset. Modern high-profile games are awful, not because of a presence or lack of a story, but because game companies keep selling us the same gameplay over and over again.
  • by 7Prime (871679) on Tuesday June 03, 2008 @02:13PM (#23641371) Homepage Journal
    Not perfect, but they've got a much better direction than the US.

    Here's how I would describe it: The US is OBSESSED with unique complex plots with twists and turns everywhere, cliches are completely taboo. However, the storytelling is dry and purposefully attempts to extingish the idea of a creator. It's very post-modern in that respect, games really attempting to put the world into the hands of the player, and not give any emotional opportunity for the artist.

    Japan, on the flipside, has no problem with a distinct separation of powers between creator and audience. Games are played from a more traditional artistic/entertainment standpoing: there is a creator who shares his/her thoughts and stories with an audience that genuinely engaged with them. Japenese storytelling may relly very heavily on architypes and cliches, but the details are all very original, with the creator's individuality coming through very strongly.

    I truly feel that the USs post-modernist approach to game storytelling (ie: GTA, Mass Effect, Oblivion, ect.) will be shortlived and is doomed to inevitable extiction, for the same reason folks don't sit around the camp fire and listen to John Cage. This is a phase we're going through due to our current socio-political climate and fascination with the gadgetry of a new medium. It's sort of like the German expressionist film period. Eventually people will settle into video games being just another narrative medium like any other, with a distinct separation of powers between creator and audience. Obviously games will always provide a little more interaction than other mediums, but eventually that will be relegated to things like time frame (when and how you chose to interact with the story), and not in the actual creation of a story itself.

    Most of the pleasure of a plot comes from not knowing what's going on, learning about the characters involved, and exploring the world that the creators have created for you. Something is very lost when the creator says things, "you create the characeters as you see fit", and "you create the structure as you see fit". and "the plot is yours to make". The enjoyment of LEARNING about the game-world is subtley but inexpicably lost.

    This is a wholey american phinominon that is little more than a decade-or-so long passing phase. I think GTA IV or GTA V will see this come to a close. Things like Bioshock will probably be closer to what we'll see in the future, with set paths but subtle choices along the way.
    • Japanese games are the worst offenders in terms of the issues brought up in TFA. In general, they have a series of long, non-interactive cut scenes connected by relatively unrelated gameplay.

      Look to a game like Half Life 2 or Portal to see strong storytelling blended with gameplay in the way that TFA suggests.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 7Prime (871679)
        Try Ico or Shadow of the Colossus. Not a single cut scene in Ico, very few in SoC, two of the most powerful games ever made, both Japanese... and there are more examples like them. I think you're knowledge of Japanese games is extremely limited. I found that Portal had more in common with Japanese games than american ones, actually.

        Ya know, I'm gonna start hatin' on films because they include music and drama. They aren't "pure", we should go back to silent films. It's just like video games that may include
      • The fact that TFA says it doesn't make it correct, and I suspect that the GP would heartily disagree with TFA (as I did, for that matter).

        Course, I find Half-Life 1/2 and Portal to be exceptionally weak in terms of storytelling (for the love of God, Valve, learn to use the cutscene! It's by far the best way to immerse your players in the drama, things just feel detached when you go through a first-person view), so we'd probably have to chalk the disagreement up to a matter of personal taste.

    • by nuzak (959558)
      I truly feel that the USs post-modernist approach to game storytelling (ie: GTA, Mass Effect, Oblivion, ect.) will be shortlived and is doomed to inevitable extiction, for the same reason folks don't sit around the camp fire and listen to John Cage.

      Oh please, could you possibly use any more hyperbole? Yes, there's perhaps more postmodern abhorrence of cliche in the "western" creative process, but when push comes to shove, people still enjoy swinging swords and saving princesses within their comfortable fam
      • by 7Prime (871679)
        Not sure I see where our disagreement lies... sounds like we're in completely agreement here. And yes, I'm aware that the US isn't alone in this (isn't BioWare a Canadian company?) I guess I'm more refering to the west as a whole.

        And don't get me wrong, I have NOTHING against complex challenging storylines. For instance, I'm currently reading Cryptonomicon right now and absolutely loving it... and it's far more complex than a simple architypical plot. My point is, however, that if you have a complex plot, y
  • You should not have story segments and playable segments it should all be game play... it should be story-play. The hardware is advanced enough now that you can ditch those crutches of cut-scenes and stupidly contrived narrative sequences. The whole thing should be one continuous experience with no load screens no "forced play modes" and no freaking levels.

    Modern games should be one contiguous experience with the player in ultimate control and able to swap "modes" on the fly. The games should be like life.

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