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Games Entertainment

How FPS Storylines Are Written 165

Might E. Mouse writes "Cynics might say 'Who needs a storyline for an FPS game?' and if we're talking Quake or Doom then fair enough. But to brand the entire genre as lacking in story is to condemn gems like Half-Life 2 or Chronicles of Riddick. So what goes into writing a really compelling storyline for an FPS game? bit-tech has an article exploring this topic with the likes of Martin Lancaster, writer / designer for Crysis, Rob Yescombe, writer of Haze and more: 'There's nothing wrong with that of course, back in the day Quake was amazing in its own, essentially plotless, right. But it's interesting that only recently has a push for coherently told storylines appeared among FPS fans, bought on by another few years of maturity in what is an undeniably young medium. Paintings and music have both been around since time out of mind, but computer games have only been around for a couple of decades and only recently have they begun to be recognized for the artistic merit posed by their interactivity.'"
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How FPS Storylines Are Written

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  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @10:52AM (#19969665) Journal
    Map designer: "Hey, check out this really cool Gothic arch I made in worldcraft!"
    Lead designer: "Nice, that really looks like a gateway to hell. I like the guys chained to the stone walls suspended above a pit of lava too. It looks like their souls have been sucked right out of them."
    Resulting game story: "You must pass the gateway to hell, and descend into the depths to save the damned before their souls are harvested."

    Dan East
  • System Shock 2 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zolf13 ( 941799 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @10:52AM (#19969667)
    ... could be a nice start.
  • by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @10:56AM (#19969725)
    I'll save everyone some time from reading the article:

    New games need story. Stories need writers. Writers need to think about the audience.

    Some games already have stories.

    There's a lot of plugs for the Haze game, for some reason.

    And that's it... There's nothing else. They act all philosphical about how FPS's need story/etc, but it's absolutely no different than how other games need story, except in scale. RPGs need more, puzzle games need less.
  • by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @10:58AM (#19969747) Journal
    "Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important."

    from wikiquotes...

  • by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @11:14AM (#19969995)
    "Technology adds nothing to art. Two thousand years ago, I could tell you a story, and at any point during the story I could stop, and ask, Now do you want the hero to be kidnapped, or not? But that would, of course, have ruined the story. Part of the experience of being entertained is sitting back and plugging into someone else's vision. The fact of the matter is, since the beginning of time, you could buy a Picasso and change the colors. That's trivial. But you don't because you're buying a piece of Picasso's $&#**^% soul. That's the definition of art: Art is one person's ego trip."
    - Penn Jillette
  • Re:Never been done (Score:3, Insightful)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @11:56AM (#19970715)
    It would be nice for you to lend a bit of insight into what you have an have not played. To be honest, if you break down even the most epic of tales eventually everything sounds like it was written by 12 year olds. This actually works to the advantage games with storylines in general...

    You ever played Alice or Undying? Fantastic games with great visuals in their day. The great thing about the story lines was that you could make it make as much of a difference in the game as you wanted. Didn't give a damn about poor Alice being in an institution and suicidal? Ok, just chop something up with this knife. Don't give a damn about the Covenant family and the Undying back story? The game still gladly leads you by the nose as long as you don't get sloppy and get yourself killed.

    Of how about Thief? Potentially the most immersive atmosphere and story line to ever be pumped into on series. But does the story line make a big difference in achieving your goals on a mission by mission basis? Not really. Not unless you want to be Garrett.

    You see, that's another thing about it all. If you don't want to be in the game it's not going to have an effect on you. Just like a book, if you read a book but put no life into the story itself you're just going to see strings of words. Maybe you don't have the type of imagination that it takes to put yourself in the shoes of the shooter. If you simply don't care enough that's fine too but don't act like someone didn't put effort into the end product other then yourself.

    If you're going to walk around with your nose in the air to FPS story lines don't act like the game didn't do what it was suppose to do. There is no truely passive entertainment. Every medium for story telling requires at least a smidgen of effort from the spectator in order for it to work for everyone.
  • Um... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by morari ( 1080535 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @12:08PM (#19970897) Journal
    They're not.
  • Re:Never been done (Score:2, Insightful)

    by morari ( 1080535 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @12:10PM (#19970935) Journal
    Deus Ex is an RPG, thus the compelling story. Just because it has some shooting and is in a first person perspective doesn't make it any more a FPS than Morrowind is. And the Half-Life series barely has a story, it keeps everything vague and shrouded in mystery (which did NOT help the sequel).
  • Re:Never been done (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @12:27PM (#19971197)
    Ok, before you say ANYTHING about story in FPS games, you need to play Marathon, System Shock 2, Chronicles of Riddick, Thief, or anything more substantial than Half-Life and Halo. (To pre-empt the obvious question: the Chronicles of Riddick videogame is about 10 times better than the movie, which sucked.)

    You're basically sitting here telling us that all movies are terrible, but all you've ever seen is Weekend At Bernie's. Watch some Kubrick films, then come back and tell me all movies are terrible, and I might lend your opinion a little weight.
  • Re:Never been done (Score:3, Insightful)

    by east coast ( 590680 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @12:59PM (#19971657)
    That's another way of saying "they had no storyline". Do novels require input to have good storylines? No.

    What bullshit. The input a novel requires is for the reader to put emotion into a bunch of words. Without that fiction is a meaningless waste of time. Or are you suggesting that any story telling can be successful regardless of the observer? If you think that you're even more full of shit then what I originally thought.

    We identify with characters who are sympathetic even though we can't influence them in any way.

    Yeah, the big difference is influence. That doesn't mean that there can't be a story line.

    I think the whole "make your own story" is the reason that most FPS have the literary content of a "choose your own adventure" book.

    Only if you want to look at it in that way. You, like the OP fit into my idea that you simply don't want more so you don't get more. No different then the types of people who choose the Cliff's Notes versions of books. Oh well, no loss to me.

    Does anyone stop to realize why CYOA books never rose above 5th grade reading level? It's the same reason that "interactive" story lines won't either. The simplest explanation is this: Americans believe in character-driven stories (as oppose to plot-driven stories like the Illiad or the Odyssey).

    Oh, so now this is an American problem. I just love the bashers.

    It's also fantastic the the two toothpicks that you've used as legs for your argument are both over 2600 years old and most people today can't relate to the culture and history of the times. Do you ever stop to think that may be why they're kind of brushed off today and that it has nothing to do with the idea that it's "Americans" being the problem? While the Iliad and the Odyssey may be great they're also a large investment of time to read properly. Just like the video games being mentioned they take a bit of effort to enjoy fully. Given their age and the language barriers they're more pursuits instead of simple entertainment. That's not to say that there is anything wrong with that but you're talking about a different level of literature where it goes from leisure to a serious pastime. These video games, on the other hand, do not require as much of an investment and are often more interesting as they deal with subject matter that is easier for the play to recognize.

    To take the main character and just say "oh, that's the actual human playing the game" is to eviscerate the entire plot. The plot has to be advanced by that person, but if we let them choose "meh, save the girl" or "rape the girl" or "ignore the girl", etc. then we basically end up writing 3 stories. Per every major decision. It's combinatorial explosion.

    If making decisions are that big of a deal to you perhaps you shouldn't be playing video games at all.

    If you think that making yourself a participant in the action in some form "eviscerates the entire plot" perhaps you should be mingling with people in public either. It's really sad that you probably take it so hard that people putting themselves into a dialog somehow ruins it for you.

    Instead the objective should be to show a protagonist who is sympathetic so that the player wants to participate in the action of the game. Sound impossible? It's what every novelist has to do to write an enjoyable novel.

    Actually, it doesn't sound impossible. It doesn't even sound hard to be honest.

    I let people participate on whatever level they choose. They don't have to follow my vision to every detail to make it rewarding for me. I don't think people ruin anything by seeing things they want to see it.

    If anything it sucks that you can't let these things unfold for people on their own terms. Again, no loss to me.
  • Surely thou jest (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday July 24, 2007 @01:40PM (#19972391) Journal

    ie: PacMan is a geometric shape that "eats" dots. You must avoid opponents and are constrained to a maze. There is no "Why" to this other than the need for survival. There is no Who. We don't really care about the geometric shape's origins, motivations, or feelings.

    Heh... reminds me of the high school days, when I'd occasionally be bored enough to imagine a whole touching story about such games and characters as Chucky Egg.

    Admittedly, the whole was more or less part of reverse-engineering how to write a school essay. I could eventually write an essay on anything whatsoever, and put any spin whatsoever on it. (IIRC the Chucky Egg one was about the struggle of the working class against the corporate chickens. I'm not kidding.) I was all about that kind of finding the rules that work and (ab)using them.

    I think I did one about Pac Man too, but I can't quite remember what it was about.

    Still, there you go, even if for the somewhat disturbed reasons, someone did care about Chucky's or PacMan's life, motivations, needs, etc.

    I don't think I'm the only one, though. You should see the kind of complex stories within stories that people imagine around such abstract games as Europa Universalis or Hearts Of Iron. And they're ultra-abstracted grand strategy games. You don't even command anything smaller than an army, and you don't even have access to the tactical details of a battle. It's actually more abstract than your average hex-based strategy game.

    Yet people write whole stories about _why_ something happened. They don't just write "Army Group North pushed towards Berlin", they write a whole story about how that decision was taken, what the reactions were at the HQ meeting, and occasionally what happened to the ordinary soldiers in that battle. (Again, the ordinary soldiers exist only as an abstract number in the actual game.)

    So what I'm getting at is: maybe it's not just blamable on "realism". I think many of us actually have a need for such stories. We can't be truly satisfied with "Knight takes Pawn at E4, check". We actually have to really know that Knight's personality, background, aspirations. What went through his head as he charged through the pikemen at E4 (a pawn) to try to capture the enemy King? Was he affraid? Did he do it for honour? For his own king and country? For some beautiful lady? (Quite a common thing in the middle ages.) Did he charge with a sword or with a lance? Etc. We have to really know that guy's story, you know?

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!