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Twisted Metal Designer Rails Against Storytelling Games 313

eldavojohn writes "Twisted Metal designer David Jaffe gave a DICE Summit presentation in which he argued against 'games that have been intentionally made from the ground up with the intent and purpose of telling a story or expressing a philosophy or giving a designer's narrative.' He went on to say essentially that it's a waste of time and resources when the focus should be on gameplay, not story. While some parts of his presentation are warmly welcomed by the gaming community (like his instructions for game execs to get a BS filter), this particular point has some unsurprising opponents. His argument against a 'cinematic narrative' was probably strongest with his comparison to the movie Saving Private Ryan, where Spielberg made the Normandy Beach invasion scene as close to a documentary as possible. The audience could sit back and appreciate that. But if you made a game where the player is in that position of the soldier then that historically accurate imagery and top shelf voice acting doesn't really matter, the only thing the player should be thinking is 'How the **** do I get to that rock? How do I get to the exit?' Is Jaffe right? Have game makers been 'seduced by the power and language of film' at the expense of gameplay?"
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Twisted Metal Designer Rails Against Storytelling Games

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  • by jdgeorge ( 18767 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:14PM (#39024581)

    I guess a lot of people will mention examples of stuff that works well (like inFamous, in my opinion). But that's because it's a game with ability to make decisions that affect how the game world responds to you. And it's gameplay-driven, rather than cutscene-driven.

    But the games with stories driven by cutscenes to create narrative are generally boring. Some of these are like an animated movie with some gameplay elements thrown in to drag out the story.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:15PM (#39024611) Journal

    Jaffee is wrong. Some of the bet games in the past two year have been emotionally engaging narrative-driven. If you ignore the arc of characters and plot, and only focus on gameplay, then you end up in the same box as angry birds. And that box is worth $.99.

    Disclaimer: I submitted the story and I am 100% in disagreement with Jaffe and I hope I did his argument some justice in my summarizing. However, nor do I entirely agree with your assertion. Angry birds has turned out much more money (probably) than one of my favorite long running RPG series "Tales of (Symphonia|Vesperia|Xilia|etc)" So by that measure, he's giving sound advice. Angry Birds didn't need cinematic or great voice acting (which he cites to be high budget features of games) so it didn't need to cost more than 99 cents.

    And I can easily cite counter examples to your rule. Every so often a really novel gameplay mechanic comes out. I remember the advent (or at least the advent to me) of real time strategy games like Age of Empires and Warcraft I & II. These were amazing and the plots were pretty much phoned in (hell, one was just history). And if you implement an old gameplay mechanic really well or come out with a novel new gameplay mechanic, you sort of get a free pass on story and cosmetics. Hell, look at Minecraft. Where's the story there? Or even amazing graphics? I beat a dragon at the end and was like ... huh, it really could have done without "the story."

    I sympathize with Jaffe but I don't think we should just have gameplay mechanics. In the end, there's probably a healthy balance and as a former Tetris addict turned RPG enthusiast, I see the benefits of both sides. When a game blends these two things together, that's when you get magic. Currently I'm obsessed with Star Wars: The Old Republic but I can see how that's just not for everybody. I think Jaffe was just pushing back after seeing a focus on gameplay taking a back seat to Hollywood for too long. But either extreme is bad for gaming.

    I haven't written any games but if I had, I would be completely fine with being condemned to "the same box as angry birds."

  • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:24PM (#39024723)
    Remember the old Sierra adventure games like King's Quest and Space Quest? Most of what made those games fun was the fact that you were being told a story. The puzzles were fun in their own right, but hardly ever had any deep relation to the plot at hand. The only real reason for completing them was to advance the storyline. Those games could have easily been published as printed stories, but they were more fun with the animated characters, beautiful scenery, and (in later games) voice acting.
  • Re:Nope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:27PM (#39024771)

    and civilization, and every hex based military strategy (my specialty) and every board and puzzle game (words w friends etc) Also every driving and flying game ever invented.

    Imagine how simply awful Mario Kart would be if you had to sit thru 15 minute cutscenes full of plumber's helper jokes. super mario galaxy was ... pushing the limit a bit of what I can tolerate. Or the awfulness of trying to turn any of the Gran Turismo series into a really poor cinematic reinterpretation of "the fast and the furious"

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:31PM (#39024841) Homepage

    I'm not a gamer, but as a comics reader and creator, I often see this sort of issue raised in terms of comics, which is another medium that sometimes tries to emulate other media (especially film). Gaming is its own thing. It's fine for it to borrow from other media (including film and comics), but it shouldn't try to be the same thing. Just as comics draws from the visual language of film, the narrative language of prose, the expressive language of art, and so on, so can games. But they should always be free to do things that other media cannot, because... that's the point of it being its own medium.

  • I agree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HaZardman27 ( 1521119 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:36PM (#39024917)
    Games are meant to be played. Watching a cutscene is not playing a game. As one of several metrics, I judge the quality of a game by its level of interactivity. If I am not controlling the story, even if it is as simple as making story decisions like in the Mass Effect and Witcher games, then I am only an observer of the story. In that case, movies and books are much more effective mediums for telling a story. The whole point of automated games is that the level of interactivity can be increased without the player needing to worry about the implementation (such as you would need to do in pen-and-paper RPGs like DnD or GURPS). This is precisely the reason why I don't enjoy JRPGs - to me they simply feel like a very tedious and drawn-out way to watch an anime.
  • by Missing.Matter ( 1845576 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:43PM (#39024993)

    Most of what he's railing against seems to be the heavily cutscene-driven stories in games... I personally sympathize with him on that.

    I can understand that you might not like that type of gameplay, but there are people out there want different things out of the games they play

    Ultimately, playing a video game is about satisfying some emotional desire. Games like WoW satisfy my desire to manage statistics and give me satisfaction through acquiring items and improving my character. Games like Quake or Unreal are satisfy my competitive desire to beat other players. In the same vein, games like Final Fantasy with long epic cutscenes and deep, involved storylines satisfy an emotional desire to connect with a group of characters, identify with their plight, and see them through to success. Really, the first two items in the list I can do by reading a book or watching a movie. Adding an interactive element makes it seem like I'm the one enabling their success, even though I'm really just along for the ride.

    I mean, let's distill the gameplay of Final Fantasy for a second. You have a group of characters, you find weapons and abilities, and engage in battle repeatedly until a final ultimate battle. How fun would a game be that is purely that? It might actually be reasonably fun... Infinity Blade comes to mind as an example of such a game. But it wouldn't be nearly as good without the deep involved story in there. To this day I remember how I felt watching Aeris die, and that was 15 years ago. I never felt anything close to that beating the 500th level in Infinity Blade. To reiterate my point, I doubt I would have felt the same about way if Final Fantasy 7 was just a movie.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:43PM (#39025009) Journal

    I sympathize with Jaffe but I don't think we should just have gameplay mechanics. In the end, there's probably a healthy balance and as a former Tetris addict turned RPG enthusiast, I see the benefits of both sides. When a game blends these two things together, that's when you get magic.

    I don't think there is a healthy balance. I think there are many healthy balances. For every combination of action vs plot, there's someone who's interested.

  • I have an opinion! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thefixer(tm) ( 1906774 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:51PM (#39025119)
    Had to speak up here. Games that don't focus on plot become repetitive and thin. I like Gears of War, I like Vanquish, but at the end of the day you're repeating the same challenges that just increase the difficulty and put a spin or twist on the next level's boss.

    I bought an Xbox the day Halo came out, played it all night and beat it by noon the next day. I was CONSUMED by the whole experience. There was a reason WHY I was there killing all those aliens, I felt I understood my character, but most of all, I felt like the days of repeating boring levels that just get a little harder and a little different were over.

    The first game I ever beat was Zaxxon, flipped the score back when I was wearing wooden underwear and riding around on dinosaurs. It was fun, when I was 8 or 10. Then I grew up. And funny thing, the games that consumed me in junior high were the games that were all plot. Bards Tale, Wizardry, games that dropped me into a world of fantasy and told me a (good) story along the way.

    Today, I have a family, job, other obligations and I only get to play games occasionally. What I choose to do with that time isn't about killing the next boss, it's about the journey through the whole world.

    Right now, the few precious moments I spend on video games is in Fallout New Vegas. And while I'm sitting there in my comfy couch with my giant screen and my awesome sound system, the only thing I'm thinking is "What happens next?"
  • by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:55PM (#39025201)

    Had to speak up here. Games that don't focus on plot become repetitive and thin.

    My three years of playing Unreal Tournament would disagree with you. In fact, I'd say quite the opposite: games which _do_ focus on plot become repetitive because _the plot is the only thing you can do_.

    Or do you think that the NFL should introduce a plot into football games so the audience don't get bored of the repetitive gameplay?

  • by RJFerret ( 1279530 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @06:05PM (#39025393) Homepage

    Nothing gets me button mashing faster than a cut scene appearing.

    If I want to play a game, I want to PLAY the game. If I wanted to watch TV or a movie, I wouldn't be trying to play a videogame!

    After a game of chess, I can tell you the "story" of the game, without any artificial "story" being applied. The inherent stories are awesome.

    I have no objection to other stories being there for people who prefer passive entertainment, but please be sure to include a way to skip past the time sinks.

    (Yes, I too play an MMORG, one with compelling stories to me, that others merrily skip.)

    The market answers these things.

  • The real issue... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @06:08PM (#39025449)

    .... is hardware power allowed computers to create graphics that allowed cinematic elements to take over and because we as gamers love both cinema and games we are now highly confused consumer base when it comes to games. I admit to being spoiled by the likes of Call of duty 4 and mass effect but even I know that the awesome hollywood cinematic aspects do detract and take away resources from the game. Where we are just playing the same games with different stories and the gameplay isn't going anwyhere.

    I still look at high watermarks for gameplay in Quake 3 and UT2004 and see that gameplay has frozen in time, instead of explore new game modes. Gamers have become satisfied with a basic level of gameplay and just swapping out models and narrative. Lets be honest we are all guilty here to some extent. No one really escapes and Jaffe is correct that story should serve gameplay.

    Just because computers now have the hardware power to render cinematics and hollywood special fx doesn't mean they should dominate. Let us remember games like civilization 1 for instance. A game you can come back to and play many times. Most modern games completely lack the replayability element anymore because they are so cinematic focused. We've come to substitute gaming with a cinematic experience and it has had negative effects on games since there are not enough resources to go around so publishers and developers have to pick what they think will get them the most sales (hollywood or gameplay?) most go for shoving story into the game and cutting back on gameplay since most gamers are now older and don't really like gameplay anymore (it's true lets face it, whenever you hear and old codger complain about 'grinding' in an RPG or repetitiveness in battle systems, that's you decrying gameplay).

    Another real issue is many modern gamers don't want to be challenged. It's too easy for all of us (and we've all done it) to be passively awed by the audiovisuals for that brief moment of stimulation but then you never pick up the game again. How many modern games have you actually replayed or gone back to? After the cinematic experience and rush is over you rarely go back. I still go back to older retro games from time to time.

    I remember when replayability used to be front and center. Older gamers prefer more story driven games and less gameplay because they have 1) less energy and 2) are time constrained so they perceive marathon sessions as a 'waste of time' and 'grinding' because now they are part of the rat race. But there is still an element of them having 'grown out of' gameplay.

    I am one of those people for who the last 10 years of gaming has been complete creative loss. I'm gameplay guy first and I positively hate the dumbing down of games to insert story and narrative and "the awesome button" where challenge and interactivity has been stripped away. You can especially see this in Deus Ex human revolution. I went and replayed Deus Ex the original before playing HR and I really do miss the gameplay first approach. The world in the original DX was just so much more compelling as a game despite it's aged graphics.

    Modern games try to cater to all audiences and the easiest way to do this is just copy/paste from hollywood given the expensive nature of modern game development.

    I think most people misunderstand Jaffe's argument, he's not saying story can't be done well or that games shouldn't have stories. But the story of a game should be in service to the gameplay. What a player is doing 90% of the game should take precedence over passive elements that are one time only (story/cinematics). There are only so many times you can watch a cinematic, but you can always replay a game like Civilization or alpha centauri and be sucked right back in and that's totally missing from our modern AAA hollywood infested games.

    They are entertaining no doubt about it, people get emotionally attached the properties and characters. But lets' be honest shall we? We won't be saying "just one more t

  • by Johann Lau ( 1040920 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @06:39PM (#39025981) Homepage Journal

    Consuming content isn't playing a game. And many games are exactly about that --- show stuff, don't frustrate the player with any actual challenge, make sure the game can be completed easily if you only really want to. Who cares about the properties of games, like the ability to win or loose them... because hey, you hired 2000 artists, might as well show off their work, right?

    I mean sure, if that's what people want, and other people are actually up for giving that to them, I don't care. It's like bad cinema, exactly like that. Formulaic, shallow, mediocre, and mentally as cheap as they are expensive in terms of money. Bad cinema is firmly established, too, and it doesn't take away from good movies... but that doesn't it's not bad cinema. The only thing people get to vote with their wallets on in this case, is how many idiots there are out there, to paraphrase Immortal Technique haha... but them buying turds doesn't knight those turds.

  • Re:Nope (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @07:14PM (#39026371)

    You are correct. For the most part gamers don't give a shit about cut scenes or story -- they just want to play the dam game.

    TF2 has the right balance -- there is a back story IF you are interested, but it doesn't keep you from just hopping and blowing shit up.

    There is a time and a place for cut scenes. But for the majority of them they just get in the way. Especially the unskippable cut scenes when you are replaying the game, can't pause it due to interruptions such as kids, food, neighbor, etc. Not that I don't love Ico, Uncharted, etc, but too many designers forget that it is a computer GAME first and fore-most, not a fricken movie.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2012 @07:30PM (#39026549)

    "But it wouldn't be nearly as good without the deep involved story in there"

    Sorry pal. The Final Fantasy series is infantile bollocks.

    It's your typical Japanse game/movie trick of using pretention and incomprensiblity to hide that it's shallow, purile and trite. It gets fanboys all hot and bothered because... well... they like to think they are the only ones to get it.

    In reality, the rest of the world takes a look at it and sees that it's just empty masturbatory cartoon crap.

  • by ninjackn ( 1424235 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @07:55PM (#39026769) Journal
    I'm glad you mentioned Uncharted because I think it's a perfect example of how pushing towards a movie type of story telling ruins a game. The story telling elements in Uncharted 2 was over used, forced and ultimately broke game play. For example when you first start the game and granted control: you find the main character hanging off a crashed train danging off an edge of a cliff. You start to climb upwards and then BAM a piece of the train breaks off and you loose control to a mini-scene where you watch him dangle by one hand, he watches the broken pipe fall a long ways down and you're given a scenic views of the snow covered mountains in the distance as he slowly turns himself back around and gets his other hand back on the train. You're then granted control again and this process is repeated a number of times until you finally make it onto solid ground. That ruins the game play for me, I've lost control and was interrupted not because I made a mistake but because the designers wanted it to be more like a movie. Metal Gear Solid 4 while having a million hours of cut-scenes manages not to break game play; when they take control away and show a scene it's because there's going to be a change in game play. If I sneak into a house and they start a cut-scene it's because the gameplay is shifting from sneaking past henchmen to a boss battle. Playing Uncharted 2 I felt less like playing a game with an interactive world with a story to drive that interaction and more like watching a movie that required me to push some buttons.
  • Re:Nope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @08:14PM (#39026931)

    You are correct. For the most part gamers don't give a shit about cut scenes or story -- they just want to play the dam game.

    You, however, are absolutely wrong. *some* gamers just want gameplay. Some gamers want story. Some gamers want a combination of the two. My game collection, for example, has a few arcade games (Wii Sports Resort, Wii Sports, Mario Kart, and a couple of things on the VC), it has a few strategy games (every version of Civilization that's ever come out for the PC, and a few ancient versions of SimCity), and everything else is story-driven RPG's. The closest thing to a shooter you'll find in my house is American McGee's Alice, and the sequel, Alice: Madness Returns. While those both do have shooter elements, they're both mainly story-driven platformer puzzle games, with the occasional fight to break up the gameplay.

    The problem is, you can't generalize gamers like that. You've got the folks who like games like Halo, and Call of Duty, and you've got folks like me, who won't actually buy a game that doesn't have a story, and you have everything in between. Studios make story-driven games that are essentially interactive movies specifically because people buy them. If they didn't find them enjoyable, they wouldn't buy them. And there is replay value in these games, if you want to enjoy the story again, or if you want to see if there's different ways to solve the puzzles. Heck, I still play through The Longest Journey, even though that game came out in 1999 and had an embarrassingly dated engine even back then. How many shooters do people still pick up 13 years later to play? Isn't the fact that I can look beyond the flaws, many of which have not aged well, and still enjoy the game a testimony to the quality of the product?

  • by grahamd0 ( 1129971 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @08:34PM (#39027095)

    One thing Mass Effect has going for it is that unlike in a Final Fantasy game, the player drives the cut scenes. The interactive conversations were really what did it for me. They finally managed to create a real role playing game on the computer (or xbox or whatever).

    So many CRPGs seem to think "role playing" means "stat advancement", and ME (and even more ME2) threw that out the window in favor of defining who Shepard really was.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Tuesday February 14, 2012 @01:51AM (#39029363)

    But the games with stories driven by cutscenes to create narrative are generally boring. Some of these are like an animated movie with some gameplay elements thrown in to drag out the story.

    You know I have to strongly disagree. I think there is room for both types of games. I *loved* Twisted Metal. Played the hell out of it, and it did have some cutscenes :)

    I don't think a lot of the Final Fantasy games were boring at all. They did tell a story and the whole point was to grind (which could get boring, but that is not limited to FF) till you could reach a point in the game where you got a new piece of the story.

    However, if you are going to do a narrative type game that tells a story.... make it a *good* one. Without a good plot and talented artists it just falls flat, especially when game play is lacking.

    As for the GP's point about Japan being cutscene driven, I am not really that surprised. It is a cultural thing. Being a big Anime fan, and a fan in general of Japanese games, they do seem to be a lot more oriented on the story. Hell, narrative type games in Japan where you constantly make decisions to affect the outcome of the game are a dime a dozen.

    In the end, I don't think a well made cutscene driven game is boring and is a worthy genre on its own merits.

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall