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Classic Games (Games) Games

Storytelling In Games and the Use of Narration 131

MarkN writes "The use of story in video games has come a long way, from being shoehorned into a manual written for a completed game to being told through expensive half-hour cut scenes that put gameplay on hold. To me, the interesting thing about story in games is how it relates the player to the game; in communicating their goals, motivating them to continue, and representing their role as a character in the world. This article talks about some of the storytelling techniques games have employed, and in particular the different styles of narration that have been used to directly communicate information about a story, and how that affects the player's relation to their character and the degree of freedom they're given to shape the story themselves."
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Storytelling In Games and the Use of Narration

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  • Yes, I RTFA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hezekiah957 ( 1219288 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:21AM (#27872515)

    Many games spread out their chunks of story like breadcrumbs for the player to follow, in between somewhat repetitive sessions of gameplay; the continuation of the story serves almost as a reward for getting through more of the game.

    When I read this, all I could think was "Assassin's Creed". Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the game and are eagerly the release of its sequel, but it was ridiculously repetitive.

  • by Anenome ( 1250374 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:28AM (#27872551)

    Games need to be 'told' like a story, and follow similar rules of development, plot structure, and the like. One problem developers face is that while changing a few lines in a written story are easy, changing a scene in a game can be quite an undertaking. So, the narrative of a game needs to be fairly mature before you start building scenes from it.

    Game can 'jump the shark'.

    Probably the most famous jump-the-shark moment in gaming (for me at least) was when we rented a copy of Daikatana to laugh at ._. for the N64. The opening has the main character jumping up and balancing on an out held sword. *shakes head* Romero, wtf were you thinking? It's cheesy every time they do it in anime too.

    One of the biggest strengths of games is the ability for choices to mean something, and for alternate endings to bloom. Chrono Trigger is a big one for me, to go back and play it through all over again, the story is rich and wonderful, and experience a few different endings here and there.

  • by panthroman ( 1415081 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:39AM (#27872639) Homepage

    TFA makes it sound like nobody thought storylines were important initially; but in the days of Donkey Kong, were non-superficial storylines even possible? With such repetitive gameplay, could good storyline exist?

    Maybe the more creative out there could enlighten me. Can you make a good storyline for Donkey Kong?

    (Oh no! Kong found more barrels! Again!)

  • Portal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Myria ( 562655 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @02:01AM (#27872775)

    Portal had what I felt was an interesting way of telling the story. The "narrator" was mostly there to explain the rather quirky gameplay. Only in the later levels did she become part of the story.

    Much of Portal's story is in objects you find in optional areas of the game world - secret rooms you find behind walls. You only see the objects in the 3D world and have to read them yourself to understand their storywise meaning; nothing with them is directly narrated.

    In the end, your knowledge of the story is entirely inferred from vague clues and events you find throughout the game.

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @04:30AM (#27873619) Homepage
    You know, it's funny you bring up Donkey Kong because that game actually had more story than 1000s of its contemporaries. An Italian plumber climbs a construction site to save his girlfriend who was kidnapped by a giant monkey? Much more than the "shoot the ships", "shoot the rocks", or "racecar" which made up most of the other games at the time. Japanese-made games always struck me as having overly complex and convoluted plots, even when they weren't necessary. Even generic, copycat 90s shoot-em-ups had these long stories of how the spaceship pilot got there. I mean, who cares? It's a shooting game, it's mental pachinko.
  • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:44AM (#27873993)

    Torment does right what so many other games do wrong when it comes to story. Cutscenes (or its precursor, story in a seperate manual) don't do it for me, because it seperates story from gameplay. I want story to be the game.

    Perhaps what I'm looking for is not storytelling, which implies a passive audience, but storyexperiencing. I want to be part of it, and only a few games (including Torment and Star Control 2) got that right. With most other games, the story is just too much removed from the gameplay that I just don't care.

  • Re:Yes, I RTFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by montyzooooma ( 853414 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @05:50AM (#27874039)
    Some games require story, RPGs in particular. Most other games I just want to PLAY THE GAME. If I want a story I'll read a book or watch a movie. 99% of in game story-telling is a waste of my time, and so uninspired it's an insult not a reward. Unskippable cut-scenes are a crime which should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.
  • by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:18AM (#27874197)

    Heck, I'd even put the venerable halflife on the side of "good gameplay, bad story." Seriously - the story was just 'oops, we made a teleporter and now aliens are coming out.' That's basically the same story as DOOM... The only reason it was so awesome story-wise is because they TOLD their crappy story in an extremely well-done way.

    That's actually what good story is about: telling it well. Lots of really great classic stories would have been lame if told by an idiot. A good storyteller can make the lamest story exciting.

    Of course a truly original and innovative plot would be nice, but those are rare in Hollywood and even in books. Most are about telling some lame cliche in a new, exciting and/or interesting way.

  • Re:Yes, I RTFA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcvos ( 645701 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @06:44AM (#27874369)

    Cut scenes don't belong in RPGs either. They should tell the story through the game rather than tacking it on for passive consumption.

    Games are not a passive medium. You need to get players involved in the story, rather than making them a passive audience to a crappy movie.

    Cut scenes need to die.

  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Friday May 08, 2009 @08:23AM (#27874987)

    How could you have missed the psychological depth of Manic Miner, a man driven to go ever further surmounting ever harder and ever more dangerous obstacles, the tragic drama of Pac Man, a caricature of a man, forever trapped in a maze pursued by unrelenting foes.

    Did you not saw the deep sociological implications of the hive-like mind of the aliens in Space Invaders having unbounded persistence and yet never faltering and never deviating from their group dance.

    Did your hearty not skip a beat at the drama of the ball in Pong, unable to follow a path other than that which was set by others it's destiny in the hands of two conflicting personalities.

  • Re:Oblig... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EnsilZah ( 575600 ) <> on Friday May 08, 2009 @12:46PM (#27878059)

    Yeah, and he makes his games accordingly, but some people enjoy games with more depth.

    I always thought of games as being divided into two categories:
    The skill based ones which most online games fall into, where you get your reward by beating an opponent, proving that you are more capable.
    And there's the story-based ones when, like a good movie or a book, and sometimes the gameplay is just something you do to get farther along in the story.
    Some games use singleplayer as one aspect and multiplayer as the other, some have a good balance of both aspects, but a lot are either in one category or the other.

    I enjoy both on occasion and I think that quote is a pretty narrow way to think of it.
    I enjoyed the original doom games and they were pretty good for the time, I also enjoyed Quake 3 Arena as a skill game, but I think id has been making pretty boring games since then with terrible storylines.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"