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Ragnar Tornquist On Video Game Storytelling 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the once-upon-a-time dept.
Ragnar Tornquist is respected as one of the best storytellers in today's game industry. He's done work on Anarchy: Online, Dreamfall, and upcoming MMO The Secret World. Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a lengthy three-part interview with Tornquist about how good stories are crafted, how they interact with other aspects of the games, and what his preferences are for building a compelling character. "We had all these characters who were on a journey of faith, and we said how can we ensure that this theme is carried through, and have a clear view of how their journeys happen. So we said, every single major character had to fit into this model. Everybody starts out at the top. Faith can be anything — it can be religion, it can be a belief in yourself, in your abilities, in the work you do. As we face challenge, there's a process where we have loss of faith. It can be a minor thing: thinking one day, 'God, I suck at what I do. I can't do this.' And a lot of people after that point turn themselves around, face those problems, challenge them and they conquer them, and they say, 'Screw that, I am good at what I do.' I think most happy people live in this loop."
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Ragnar Tornquist On Video Game Storytelling

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  • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:02PM (#24682189) Homepage Journal
    Ragnar Tourqist was born Wilbur McDougal in Peoria, Illinois and developed his fantasy- writing skills as an excape from the beatings he suffered in high school at the hands of the elitist chess club. He enjoys painting figurines and staging epic battles with his Pez dispenser collection. Also, he likes ponies.
    • by jgarra23 (1109651) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:12PM (#24682311)

      Ragnar Tourqist (20 April 1889 - 30 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician who led the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei NSDAP), more commonly known as the Nazi Party. He was Chancellor of Germany (1933-1945) and Führer of Germany (1934-1945).

      Tourqist was a decorated veteran of World War I who achieved leadership of the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany. Following his imprisonment after a failed coup, he gained support by promoting nationalism, antisemitism and anti-communism with charismatic oratory and propaganda. The Nazis executed or assassinated many of their opponents, restructured the state economy, rearmed the armed forces (Wehrmacht) and established a totalitarian and fascist dictatorship. Tourqist pursued a foreign policy with the declared goal of seizing Lebensraum ("living space"). The German invasion of Poland in 1939 caused the British and French Empires to declare war on Germany, leading to the outbreak of World War II in Europe.

      The Axis Powers occupied most of continental Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. Eventually the Allies defeated the Wehrmacht and Schutzstaffel (SS). By 1945, Germany was in ruins. Tourqist's bid for territorial conquest and racial subjugation caused the deaths of tens of millions of people, including the systematic genocide of an estimated six million Jews, not including various additional "undesirable" populations, in what is known as the Holocaust.

      During the final days of the war in 1945, as Berlin was being invaded by the Red Army, Tourqist married Eva Braun. Less than 24 hours later, the two committed suicide in the Führerbunker.

      Goodwin, eat your heart out!

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Now that's multitasking!
      • Wikipedia (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Can I cite this comment as a source on Wikipedia?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Odin's Raven (145278)

        Goodwin, eat your heart out!

        Aaargh! You know who else liked to screw up the spelling of Godwin's [wikipedia.org] name? Hitler ...errr... Tourqist, that's who!

        .
        .
        .

        (Now who's gonna be the first to call me a spelling Nazi? ;-)

    • by bbagnall (608125)
      Isn't Ragnar a character from Atlas Shrugged?
  • by Itninja (937614) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:13PM (#24682317) Homepage
    This sounds like one of those made-up names the guys on MST3K would come up with. Ragnar Tornquist? If ring-wraiths were real and were active in the adult film industry, they would have names like this.
    • Re:Biff McLargehuge? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:26PM (#24682473)

      No, Ragnar is real. His work on The Longest Journey has made him a legend in the adventure gaming community. He's sort of the Sid Meier of adventure games.

      • by Hatta (162192)

        One game does not a Sid Meier make. What other adventure games has he worked on?

        • Re:Biff McLargehuge? (Score:4, Informative)

          by EveLibertine (847955) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:03PM (#24682921)
          I guess you haven't played The Longest Journey?
          • by pcolaman (1208838)
            I played it, and his stuff doesn't hold a candle to the stuff that Sid Meier has put together.
        • by Creepy (93888)

          Dreamfall - did you read TFA?

          Also part of Anarchy: Online and the in development The Secret World.

          Incidentally, Sid Meier did mostly sims (the two I owned were F15 Strike Eagle and Silent Service) and his only real hit before Civilization was Sid Meier's Pirates! (which bore his name in a marketing move). I don't think anyone could have named Sid Meier before they put his name on the Pirates! box, but after Civ, nobody forgot him.

          The Longest Journey is probably the best adventure game I've ever played. Dr

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Chyeld (713439)

      For some reason I thought he was a Supreme Court Justice.

  • by Cycon (11899) <steve [at] theProfessionalAmateur,com> on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:16PM (#24682351) Homepage

    Faith can be anything -- it can be religion, it can be a belief in yourself, in your abilities, in the work you do. As we face challenge, there's a process where we have loss of faith. It can be a minor thing: thinking one day, 'God, I suck at what I do. I can't do this.' And a lot of people after that point turn themselves around, face those problems, challenge them and they conquer them, and they say, 'Screw that, I am good at what I do.'

    When problems overwhelm us and sadness smothers us, where do we find the will and the courage to countinue?
    well the answer may come in the caring voice of a friend a chance encounter with a book or from a personal faith.
    for Ragnar, help came from her faith but it also came from a squirrel.

    ...he thought, "If that squirrel can take care of himself with the harsh winter coming on so can I."
    "Once i broke my problems into small pieces I was able to carry them, just like those acorns, one at a time."

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:17PM (#24682359)

    God, I suck at what I do. I can't do this.

    But then I hit 'submit' and my post is modded +1 Funny.
    All is well again.

  • by Bieeanda (961632) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:29PM (#24682515)
    Lessee. Anarchy Online's 'story' was yet another rehash of plucky underdogs vs. evil overlords. Plus aliens after a while, when people got bored of fighting corporate lackeys.

    Dreamfall's three primary characters were a washed-up, gothy 'heroine' from the previous game, a generically plucky artist, and a generically honorable warrior who discovers that his government is corrupt. They inhabit a story that wanders at best, is never resolved in any way, and cuts off at not just one, but three separate cliffhangers.

    • by beakerMeep (716990) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:56PM (#24682827)
      Sweet. Next time we need someone to be flippant and dismissive, we'll be sure to look you up!

      There's a saying where all stories ever written can be summed up as man versus man, man versus environment, or man versus himself. And while this is true, it doesn't make all stories worthless.

      I personally enjoyed Anarchy Online's story quite a bit and found it a unique telling with much depth, mystery and imagination even though it was a "rehash."

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by AndresCP (979913)
      I can't think of a single game I've ever played with a "generically plucky artist." Perhaps you're thinking of Photoshop Hero, a game which is in fact fictional?
    • Not every story can be "Dune", my friend.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kklein (900361)

      a washed-up, gothy 'heroine' from the previous game

      Um, yeah, that would be April Ryan, the main character of the series. She didn't start out washed up or cynical, and her character arc is very well written to get her to that point. And, um... Not gothy. I say this as a recovering goth myself.

      ...a generically plucky artist...

      Let's see... Zoe has a failed relationship, a strained friendship, family problems, and is being sucked into a corporate/technological/mystical conspiracy... Yeah, I guess she was pretty plucky, considering. Also, she is a doppelganger of April Ryan in the first

      • Let's see... Three characters, three cliffhangers... Third installment in the works... Do you even know what a cliffhanger is for?

        Normally I'd agree with you, but at the rate that these games get produced we won't see the third installment until sometime during the Chelsea Clinton presidency. And (spoiler ahead) having it look like all of the main characters have joined the bleedin' choir invisible is not the way to leave the faithful hanging for decades.

    • Lessee. Anarchy Online's 'story' was yet another rehash of plucky underdogs vs. evil overlords. Plus aliens after a while, when people got bored of fighting corporate lackeys.

      Dreamfall's three primary characters were a washed-up, gothy 'heroine' from the previous game, a generically plucky artist, and a generically honorable warrior who discovers that his government is corrupt. They inhabit a story that wanders at best, is never resolved in any way, and cuts off at not just one, but three separate cliffhangers.

      Not one of those things is a critique on quality.

  • by jbsooter (1222994) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:48PM (#24682737)
    I misread and got excited because I thought the upcoming MMO was called "The Secret World: Rock, Paper, Shotgun." I have no idea what a game named that would be like but I'd probably pay money to find out.
    • by genner (694963)

      I misread and got excited because I thought the upcoming MMO was called "The Secret World: Rock, Paper, Shotgun." I have no idea what a game named that would be like but I'd probably pay money to find out.

      I call dibs on the trademark.
      Everyone back away from my intellectual property.

    • The MMO focuses on three main groups: The rocks are a cave age civilization who specialize in stone based weapons. The paper is a mystical cult who attacks by writing spells on sheets of paper, folding them into paper airplanes, and throwing them at the opponent. The shotguns are a radical gang of gun wielding killers. The game has serious balance issues due to the rocks having no ranged attacks what so ever, the paper taking about 5 minutes to do any of their attacks (and the attacks all being ruined by a
  • by sayfawa (1099071) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @05:50PM (#24682753)
    From the intro to the latest Pure Pwnage [purepwnage.com]:

    If I wanted a compelling story, I'd read a book. There's only a few million of them already in exsistence, the majority of which were written by people whose talents compare to the best video game writers the same way Kobe Bryant's penis might compare to that of a poorly endowed tit mouse. If enduring 90 minutes of CGI cut scenes dubbed with pornography grade voice acting sounds exciting to you, I suggest you immediately navigate your web browser to the neighborhood torrent site and start downloading something called a movie. Any of them really, because apparently you're very easily satisfied.

    :D Confession: I really liked the Xenosaga series :O
    • by Hatta (162192)

      That all ignores the fact that the interactivity of a game leads to a greater immersion, and a better experience than passively watching a movie or reading a book.

      • That all ignores the fact that the interactivity of a game leads to a greater immersion

        Well it should lead to greater immersion, but in my years of playing MMOs it is rarely true. I've felt immersed in the action of a good battle, but almost never the storyline. The one exception is in EVE Online, and the story wasn't something written by the dev team, it was the fact that my character there has an actual story and that story actually effected the world of the game. Being involved in a war between two al
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by achenaar (934663)
          MMO != Adventure Game
          The kicks you get from good storytelling in an adventure game are very different indeed from those acquired while devising a backstory for your MMO character.
          I love EVE and I love devising backstory for my character, but when you find the treasure of Big Whoop, all bets are off ;)
          Ach.
          • MMO != Adventure Game

            I'm sorry I thought we were talking about MMOs. The first link in the article was discussing MMOs but the second and third were discussing adventure games. I find that an odd grouping because, as you point out, the kinds of story telling in the two genres is very different. Even in Slashdot blurb the genres are mixed.

            Ragnar Tornquist is respected as one of the best storytellers in today's game industry. He's done work on Anarchy: Online, Dreamfall, and upcoming MMO The Secret World.

        • by mcvos (645701)

          Well it should lead to greater immersion, but in my years of playing MMOs it is rarely true. I've felt immersed in the action of a good battle, but almost never the storyline.

          Perhaps because MMOs are generally not about storyline.

          The one exception is in EVE Online, and the story wasn't something written by the dev team, it was the fact that my character there has an actual story and that story actually effected the world of the game. Being involved in a war between two alliances in 0.0 space, even though I was mostly hauling supplies to our player owned station, was far more immersing a game experience than anything I've found in WoW, LotRO, GW, CoH, DDO, or EQ. What I did in EVE actually mattered in the world of the game. By contrast, when absolutely nothing in the larger game world changes when I do or do not complete an epic quest, then I don't feel immersed, I feel dismissed.

          That's a common failing in many games: the world is in stasis waiting for you to arrive to do quests, and beyond that, nothing ever changes, nothing has consequences. This makes most games feel very fake, and it breaks immersion.

          This is even somewhat true in Planescape: Torment (the best storyline in a game ever), but that game hides it so well that you don't notice, and that works. And in Torment, some of your choices really do matter. It's more intera

          • That's a common failing in many games: the world is in stasis waiting for you to arrive to do quests, and beyond that, nothing ever changes, nothing has consequences. This makes most games feel very fake, and it breaks immersion.

            I believe this comes from not wanting any subscriber to miss out on an event. The only way I can think that this might work is if you have time travel as an inherant part of the story in such that as you complete events. Areas of the game open up that are diffrent that previous areas. If you want to go back to the starting areas, you "time warp" back. Otherwise the world has to be static so that new players can experiance what you did at first. If you started WoW now and it had changed from what it was at l

      • by grumbel (592662)

        That all ignores the fact that the interactivity of a game leads to a greater immersion, and a better experience than passively watching a movie or reading a book.

        Depends, in by far the most games interaction is what ruins the immersion instead of creating it. Simple example: a character dies in a movie, you cry or feel sad, a character dies in a videogame, you feel annoyed and hit reload and try again. Not exactly very immersive. That is also why by far most games these days tell all their plot points in precreated cutscenes, sometimes these days you get a little bit of interaction like in Half Life 2, but its still a precreated cutscene.

        Now there are of course exce

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pcolaman (1208838)
          Your point about a character dying in a video game isn't 100% accurate. Just ask any old school PSOne players how they felt (or still feel) about Aeris (Aerith) dying.
          • by Torvaun (1040898)

            That's a cutscene. I want a game where plot-important characters can die, and it A) doesn't invoke game over and B) matters. Suppose if Alyx Vance were to get killed in the parking garage with all the zombies in Ep. 1. As it is, you get game over, and you reload. I want games where Alyx Vance can die in the parking garage, and that changes the story. Of course, in Episode 1, she doesn't actually do much for the story. Maybe a better version is if she got killed in the Antlion Tunnels in Ep. 2. Now, w

            • by Jedi Alec (258881)

              That's a cutscene. I want a game where plot-important characters can die, and it A) doesn't invoke game over and B) matters.

              Mass Effect, to some extent, does just that. Won't say anything else in case you actually want to try it.

            • by pcolaman (1208838)
              May not be exactly what you are looking for, but in the RTS Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle Earth (or LOTR:BFME hehe) allows the possibility of heroes dying without having a "Mission Failed" Screen come up, but more importantly, allows you to try to keep Boromir from actually dying.
          • by KDR_11k (778916)

            Plotline deaths can't really be fixed with save & reload. However, they also don't let the player affect anything, when the writer decides to kill a character for drama the player can't save the character though any means, when the writer decides a character is important later on the player can't kill him (or if he can the game script usually breaks). Even worse when the player is of the oppinion that he could have averted that death had the game not taken control from him (or required him to do somethi

    • What a load of shit. There's no reason why a video game can't have a story as good as those found in literature and film, and no reason why we should, apparently, reject such games whenever they appear. As a medium, video games are perfectly suited to storytelling, and even enable things that are flat out impossible in literature and film.

    • by pcolaman (1208838)
      Agreed. The Wheel of Time > story of any game I've ever played. Now, if they could do justice to that series in a game, then I'll pluck down my $49.99US
      • by chromatic (9471)

        You might be interested in The Sims: Sit Around and Whine For Six Books.

      • by Reapy (688651)

        I really enjoyed Final fantasy Tactics. It had one of my favorite stories in any game, and it only got better as I replayed it as I got older. There is a remade psp version that would be easier to find of it if you were interested.

        I would also put dreamfall up there because I don't think I've played too many games just like it. It was the only game I've ever gotten my wife to sit around watch every second of it. I loved the whole thing, and really do want him to finish up the story.

        Bookwise, I tried to like

  • Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Selanit (192811) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @06:13PM (#24683019)

    I have mixed feelings about Tornquist. He created The Longest Journey [longestjourney.com] which was absolutely amazing, particularly for its story. My favorite game ever. Vivid, detailed characterization, intricate world-building, compelling plot. The tech wasn't impressive (3D figures superimposed on 2D backdrops), but the story was so great that I didn't care.

    Then came the sequel, Dreamfall. Oh. My. God. The game was a lot prettier, a good deal more tech glitz. But the UI was atrocious (horrible camera control, unplayable on PC without a USB controller), gratuitous fighting scenes built in (complete with lousy combat controls), and the puzzles (such as they were) didn't make sense. Worse, the plot was incoherent at many crucial points, and the main character (Chloe) completely failed to engage my sympathy or even interest. I got to the end and was sorry she hadn't died permanently somewhere along the way.

    Dreamfall had the most severe case of sequel-itis I've ever seen. The original was amazing, astounding, wonderful, and sold a bazillion copies. Then the corporate types took over and threw a ton of cash at the sequel, and it sucked hard. The only comparable thing I can think of? Indiana Jones -- Raiders of the Lost Ark was terrific, and Temple of Doom sucked so hard that nobody ever plays it on TV, not even at 4 AM to fill up time. That's how Dreamfall was.

    I have hopes for the third TLJ installment -- after all, The Last Crusade rescued Indiana Jones from one-hit wonder status. It could happen again. But then I think of how the Matrix series went downhill, and fear.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You mean Zoe, not Chloe.

      My feelings are mixed when it comes to Dreamfall. There were some really beautiful and emotional scenes that nearly brought tears to my eyes, but I have to agree that the story felt disjointed. I also didn't like that nearly everyone important ended up dead in the end with absolutely no resolution. The ending made the entire game feel redundant, as if the entire adventure was all for nothing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Selanit (192811)

        You mean Zoe, not Chloe.

        Yeah, that's the one. Well, I said she failed to engage my interest. See? I didn't even remember her name right. ^_^;

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Unplanned sequels usually suck. The originals usually work for reasons that are difficult to pin down or quantify. But people try to recreate this success by guessing what the magic ingredients were, and it fails badly. Especially when you get different people involved. So if you get the ingredients wrong and try to recreate the cake...

      Sometimes part of what made something work wasn't the writer, but the editors. So on the sequel the writer who now has a lot more respect and clout gets away with less e

      • Not the case for Dreamfall. I've RTFA, and Ragnar explains that TLJ was unedited (as he was his own boss then), allowing things like swearing and full frontal male nudity, while Dreamfall was edited/censored. He mentions that time limits affected the gameplay, but not the major elements of the story.

      • Dreamfall wasn't an unplanned sequel. Tornquist plans to make 3 parts, with the 3rd part available in episodic format apparently.

        He also says that he feels Dreamfall had the better story, which I agree with. TLJ was a lot more disjointed than Dreamfall.

        • by Reapy (688651)

          Agreed. I played dreamfall randomly, and then went back bought TLJ as I had somehow missed it (played all the older adventure games). I found that dreamfall was more compelling, and generated more emotions for me, then TJL. Probably because it had a lot of dated game mechanics and older style presentation. It would have had a larger impact on me if I had played it at its release time I think.

      • by N!k0N (883435)

        So if you get the ingredients wrong and try to recreate the cake...

        The cake is a lie.

    • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Toonol (1057698) on Wednesday August 20, 2008 @08:55PM (#24684411)
      Wow, I thought Dreamfall was great. The combat was unnecessary, but other than that it was a wonderful game. Normally, when you describe a game as an interactive movie, it's an insult; but this was an example of one done right, with depth, story, and characterization. I thought the story held together quite well and really liked the main character. The longest Journey was excellent also, but I like the sequel better.
      • by grumbel (592662)

        The problem with Dreamfall was that the story as a whole simply made very little sense, maybe things will be cleared up in Dreamfall:Chapters, but Dreamfall taken by itself is really weird. The Faith subplot itself gets resolved ok, but the whole April subplot feels very out of place, half the game you spend to find her and then you find her and nothing happens, the whole visit to Acadia doesn't really accomplishes a thing and is more a tour-guide through nice places that you already new from TLJ then somet

        • I actually thought the story in Dreamfall was told rather more coherently that TLJ. With large questions left unanswered, and clearly leading up to a sequel, yes, (half of the game is, as you say, missing,) but what they showed you was fairly interesting and fleshed out. Now for all I know they'll proceed to pull a Fahrenheit on the story, but I'll certainly try to get around to checking out the next game when it comes.

    • I played Dreamfall before I played TLJ. Strangely enough, I couldn't understand what people loved so much about TLJ. To me, Dreamfall was a much better game, despite the crappy UI. And I didn't even have to know the background story to enjoy Dreamfall -- the game explains itself quite nicely.

      I'm looking forward to Part 3.

    • by Squeeself (729802)
      100% agree with you on Dreamfall. It started out with so much potential...and kept stumbling...and then just failed miserably. Also, looking at the other games to his credit...Anarchy Online? We'll ignore all the serious issues in that game that aren't writer-related, and we still come up with...WTF? Admittedly, my time in AO was limited to a couple months, but I would not call any of the world there particularly great. Supposedly a bunch of stories outside the game though, and those might be better. Maybe
  • He didn't make the Baldur's Gate series. Move along.

    Actually, Dreamfall was pretty cool.
  • Hey, Ragnar (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roystgnr (4015) <roystgnr@nOspAm.ticam.utexas.edu> on Thursday August 21, 2008 @12:18AM (#24685781) Homepage

    You know what's an important part of storytelling?

    FINISHING THE FREAKING STORY

    Like, when you've gotten through the backstory and the character development, and you get to the first big climax, the cliffhanger where you have the audience wondering which of their heroes will live and which will die?

    That is NOT the right time to roll the credits. And if there are a half dozen important subplots that haven't even reached their climax yet? Then it is DEFINITELY NOT the right time to roll the credits.

    Oh, who am I kidding. I could turn this rant into a treatise, but I know I'm still going to buy The Longest Journey 3 (or Dreamfall: Chapters, or whatever it gets called), even if it doesn't come out for another five years. And he knows people like me are still going to buy it, even if it's only sold for two hundred dollars with an uncrackable installer EULA which can only be accepted by submitting a video recording of the prospective customer saying "Please, Mr. Tornquist, I humbly beg for permission to play your sequel."

    • The problem is that it's been such a long time and so many elements have been left unresolved that by the time the sequel rolls around I, at least, probably won't remember half of the story that it's supposed to be continuing. As for replaying Dreamfall first, I don't think I can bring myself to tackle those "action sequences" again.
  • by Detaer (562863)
    Yeah this guy works for funcom, what the hell does he know about making a game that is compelling or playable? Age of Conan and Anarchy online were and are crap. This upcoming MMO of his will suffer the same fate as both of these games, good initial sales with absolutely horrid customer retention.
  • by RogueyWon (735973) * on Thursday August 21, 2008 @05:09AM (#24687179) Journal

    There have been decent game stories around for years now - going back at least as far as Ultima IV. We've also been seeing them much more frequently recently. I must confess, though, I wouldn't have ranked this guy or the games he's put out right up there at the top of the list. As others have said, the Longest Journey was great, Dreamfell was weak and Anarchy Online... oh come on, is that really the best you can do? I'm not sure about individuals, but there are plenty of developers around in the industry who can do it better.

    Bioware are obviously very good at crafting stories, but I think Planescape Torment is their only real masterpiece, from a story point of view. Their other games have had stories ranging from the great to the truly excellent (KOTOR and BG2 in particular), but PST was the only one to really go beyond the category of "fantastically well-done, but nevertheless formulaic fantasy/sci-fi fare".

    Square-Enix are, if anything, even better. Their heavily cutscene-based style isn't to all tastes (though it is to mine), but they've gone beyond the point of just writing good stories and to the kind of level where, when they're on form, their games have well developed structures and themes. Look at Final Fantasy IX (not my favorite installment) and note how the game has theatre scenes at the beginning, the intermission, and the end. Also note how the two little jester guys act as a chorus throughout most of the game. Again, in Final Fantasy X, there's a consistent theme of "death" running throughout the entire game. Yes, it has bright and colourful graphics and a few irritating characters (yes, Wakka, I'm looking at you), but almost every character back-story, side-quest and main plot element in the game revolves around death.

    Persona 3 really impressed me from the story point of view. Not because its "go to school and save the world in your spare time" plot is new or exciting, but because it structured itself so as to do a really good job of capturing the feel and structure of a 26 episode anime series (Shakugan no Shana was the one that leaped to mind for me, but other parallels are equally valid) in the format of a game.

    I didn't rate Valve's storytelling in Half-Life 2 or its expansion - I just can't buy into the mute Gordon Freeman as a protagonist in that setting. Portal, however, had an absolutely fantastic minimalist story, told through some really clever techniques.

    Finally, after a really, really dodgy start with Blue Dragon, I was really impressed with the level of the storytelling in Lost Odyssey. I'm not talking about the main plot here, which is a fairly standard steampunk affair (with heavy inspiration from Final Fantasy VIII). Rather, I'm talking about the dreams you unlocked throughout the game. These were nothing more than animated text, on a lightly illustrated background, with a couple of minimalist sound-effects, yet they did a fantastic job at bringing the game world alive and building up Kaim's character far more effectively than any traditional device would have.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Icarium (1109647)

      Bioware are obviously very good at crafting stories, but I think Planescape Torment is their only real masterpiece, from a story point of view. Their other games have had stories ranging from the great to the truly excellent (KOTOR and BG2 in particular), but PST was the only one to really go beyond the category of "fantastically well-done, but nevertheless formulaic fantasy/sci-fi fare".

      I feel compelled to point out that in every single example you've cited of Bioware crafting a good story, the underlying framework was already in place. The Planescape, Forgotten Realms and Star Wars 'worlds' in which these stories unfold were all well established long before Bioware came to the party.

      You also appear to judge a story by how well it's presented. Given the medium, fair enough, but bear in mind that there can be a large disconnect between the person(s) responsible for the storyline and those t

      • by RogueyWon (735973) *

        You miss my point entirely. Yes, Bioware has, in many cases (with the notable exceptions of Jade Empire and Mass Effect) taken existing universes and just developed stories within them. As I said, most of the stories they have written range from the good to the fantastic. They fit extremely well within their settings. KOTOR was the best Star Wars story we'd seen since Empire Strikes Back. However, Planescape Torment was the only game they did which took an existing setting and then went completely outside o

        • by Icarium (1109647)

          What point did I miss? I didn't dissagree about the quality of Bioware's offerings, merely aired my opinion that creating a story and a setting deserves more credit than creating a story within a pre existing setting.

          As to you're second point, you've missed mine: An author such as Tolkein is responsible not only for the story but also it's presentation, therefore it is reasonable to critisise the author for the presentation. When the medium is a video game, there is a distinct seperation between the author

    • Bioware didn't develop Planescape: Torment, Black Isle Studios did. It used the Infinity Engine developed for Baldur's Gate, but that's it.

      Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] link, if you need it.

      As far as Bioware's stories go, I would agree with you. They haven't been anything more than just really good genre stories (especially Baldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic). And while their characters are occasionally memorable, they just as often fall flat or (even worse) annoy the crap out of me (Carth, I'm looking at you
  • by tygerstripes (832644) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @06:46AM (#24687601)
    I played DF (and TLJ) for the first time over the last week, and the story - especially in Dreamfall - was one of the most impressive qualities.

    However, I have one serious criticism: for every minute of cutscene, there were maybe two minutes of gameplay - and this high level of hand-holding increased towards the end. Pretty much the entire last 20-30 minutes of the game was cut-scene, and I quickly lost the sense of immersion and attachment I'd tried to build up.

    Seriously, there was a small handful of creative problem-solving set pieces, and most of the rest was either cut-scene or entirely prescriptive "gameplay". Given that it wasn't a long game, it ended up feeling as though someone had written a script for a film, and then tried to cram a game in the edges. Which was a shame, because the engine and dynamics were superb.

    So while I won't criticise Tornquist's ability to tell a good story or create a compelling character, I would seriously question his authority on having the story "interact with other aspects of the game".

    • I agree. I really enjoyed TLJ but by the end of DF, I felt I was watching poorly executed visual novel. If I wanted a visual novel, I would have rented a movie; if I wanted a novel, I would have bought a book. But when I buy a game, I hope to immerse myself in the game world and actually do something. Play, naturally.
  • Storytelling is overrated in favor of good old WOW factor and immersion. Consider the (first) Half-Life.

    10 minutes went by before you could even exit the monorail. You were drooling at the attention to detail and immersion. And that was before you saw the spider walker construction equipment moving around.

    And it was another 20 after that before you shot your first shot. It was already one of the greatest games ever made before you did much more than look around and "go to work" that day.

    The first Quake,

    • by westlake (615356)
      Consider the (first) Half-Life.
      10 minutes went by before you could even exit the monorail. You were drooling at the attention to detail and immersion. And that was before you saw the spider walker construction equipment moving around.
      And it was another 20 after that before you shot your first shot. It was already one of the greatest games ever made before you did much more than look around and "go to work" that day.

      .

      You do understand that what you have just described is pure storytelling?

  • Yeah Ragnar is ok I guess. But BioWare has some of the top writers in the industry, period. KOTOR is one of the best when it comes to story and dialogue, the plot is far far more interesting than most of the shit Lucas has cranked out lately, for sure. Mass Effect was pretty good too, but did feel a lot like KOTOR. Now, Dragon Age I'm looking forward to, as that project has some of the same writers who also worked on Baldur's Gate II and KOTOR, which are both stellar.

    </end fanboy rave>

  • Tried to post this about 20 times last night but was very drunk. Anyhow... I was wondering why there are no modern day monkey island 1 or 2 games. Rightly or wrongly I thought that there isn't a team who can write it the way it needs to be done to be enjoyable like those games were. Then I thought, why not start a project in a decent adventure game suite and then shunt it out to the community. You could vote/moderate opinions on the next 10 minutes/x encounters (which is funniest/ most original/entertaining
    • by grumbel (592662)

      A story designed by committee could be rather crappy. However what could be useful is testing the game via a community a lot, so that you can catch all those places where item X combined with item Y would make sense, but wasn't handled by the author.

      • by achenaar (934663)
        I'm not so sure. The way I see it is more like a brainstorming session. The original crew decide which idea gets run with. When I said you could vote, i guess I meant *you* personally could decide. I just wanna get over this "no-one can think like lucasarts used to" stuff. Surely the sense of humour that those games had can be replicated by the world at large. Wanna see some Monkey Island style fun in the world again. Bah.

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