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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 elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday February 13, 2012 @04:59PM (#39024357)

    Most of what he's railing against seems to be the heavily cutscene-driven stories in games like the Final Fantasy's and Metal Gear Solid's. He says he actually likes games like Skyrim, by contrast, where the player becomes the story. I personally sympathize with him on that. There have been a few games I've liked that were more cutscene dependent (like the Mass Effect series), but mostly I like to feel that *I'm* the one driving the game, not that I'm just taking occasional control to set up the next long cutscene.

    But this love of cutscenes seems to have gotten crazy-prevalent among Japanese developers in particular since the 90's. Maybe that's just a cultural thing (everything out of Japan seems to be more on-the-rails than their Western counterparts, even the non-cutscene stuff). But those developers are also incredibly stubborn about changing their style. Good luck if you can get through to them. Maybe they'll be more inclined to listen to a guy who mainly develops for Sony. I will say that a few, like Capcom, do seem to have gotten a little more "modern" of late.

    Someone had to say it, though. The cutscenes have gotten way out of hand on a lot of games. At some point you need to decide if you're making a videogame or a movie.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:08PM (#39024495)

    Story is good, but it has to be worked into the game appropriately. It's very hard to have a game ride on its gameplay alone; you need to give the player a reason to keep playing, a reason to care about the characters involved, a reason to be interested in the world they're playing in. And this can be done well regardless of the ratio of story to gameplay in a game.

    On one extreme, you have a game like Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: being a visual novel/puzzle game, it's 95% story. But it received rave reviews and was loved by gamers of all sorts, even those who hadn't really played adventure games before. On the other extreme you have games like Portal, which have no cutscenes, few characters, and tell their story entirely through the game as you play it -- and they work too. What doesn't work is shoehorning the story in, as if it was some kind of thing the designers reluctantly had to check off on the list of required features.

  • by stephencrane ( 771345 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:15PM (#39024605)
    Go play Breakout. Or Super Breakout, if you need the flashbang. Want an audiovisual literary development with some level of interactivity? Play Planescape, Dragon Age, Bioshock, Fallout 2, KOTOR, etc. You can hate cut-scene-heavy games and still get great narrative. My personal opinion is that cut-scene segments are a bit of a cheat to get there if you're using them for all the heavy story lifting.
  • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:16PM (#39024621)

    I don't understand the fundamental problem with "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." Likewise, I don't have a problem with games that are 100% about gameplay and don't bother with any sort of meaningful narrative or story.

    While I love Skyrim, I also love heavily story-driven games with lots of cutscenes as well (like Uncharted). To me, they're a nice reward and a way to help break up the gameplay a bit. Moreover, it's a fun way of merging my love of videogames with my love of interesting narrative, storytelling, and lore. Also, there are times it's fun to see personalities OTHER than the one you impose on characters in games. In other words, not every game is a Western-style role-playing game where the main protaganist is suppose to be a blank slate. It's entertaining to me when you care about the characters in your story and look forward to seeing the plot develop. Why do people try to shoehorn everything into one box? I think the world of "videogames" is big enough to fit both philosophies quite nicely.

    Frankly, it just sounds like he's a big fan of more free-form worlds in gaming, and is just annoyed that there aren't more Skyrim-like games out there. I agree it's a shame, but if there's a demand for these games, then companies will fulfill that market space, especially as the gaming market continues to expand.

  • by noh8rz2 ( 2538714 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:32PM (#39024849)
    To jaffe's comment on the beach war thing... The player wondering how to get to the next rock. For me, the more important question is why do I want to get to the next rock? What are the character drivers? What is the character trying to achieve?who am I, anyway? Personally, I see vid games as a new frontier in storytelling. Whether you're Ezio, batman, or whoever, it's ALL about story. Otherwise gameplay becomes button mashing.
  • by errandum ( 2014454 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:36PM (#39024907)

    And why can't there be both genres? Story driven games with great gameplay? Bioshock is a great example of how to combine both really well.

    If you give games no narrative and only gameplay you're doing Tetris, bejeweled or angry birds. Those are the kinds of games where you spend 10-15 minutes at a time and then leave to do something else.

    But the thing that really defeats his thesis is the commercial success. If there is a market for story driven games (like the millions each Final Fantasy sells) then there a case supporting their development. His personal opinion is that games should have fun gameplay, but I enjoy the Final Fantasy kind of mechanic (I've played them all top to bottom up to the 12th and skipping) and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent on them (even going back and playing some of them more than once and even twice).

    It would be really easy to make a compelling argument that all games should focus on story only, but it'd be highly biased and irrational. There is space for both.

  • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:36PM (#39024911)

    Some games are interactive cinema, some are interactive worlds, some are freeform (i.e. sandbox), some are on rails.

    You can't rail on super mario for being too linear. The whole point is that it's a linear experience. You can argue, correctly I think, that some games can be a bit too story, or a bit too open, or at least in some ways.

    In Star wars, the old republic MMO you have this very concrete story line that runs *you* through all these planets and so on. That works well until the point where you hit level cap, and every other sith/jedi you see is a member of the small elite dark/jedi council, and you are into the actual business of an MMO which is the hampster wheel of gear progression and finding stuff to do every day. It's so linear to start, the entire thing, that when you get to level cap it's a jaring experience to not having 4 quests in your log for the next hub and somewhere to go.

    Skyrim is an example of a bit too open. There *is* a plot there. But you can almost completely miss major portions of it, and you can't realistically see major plot differences without multiple play throughs of an easily 80 hour game. That *can* be good, but it's so big and vast that you have almost no sense of how alternate versions would play out (think the civil war story line that runs along with the rest of the game). And there's huge parts of the world you can easily miss (the giant underground area for example) even if you are spending a lot of time exploring. You might just find these little elevator you can't get into, which unlocks a whole other world, or just a room with a free sword, and you don't know differently, and you just move on, never knowing what you missed or what you could have done to find it.

    Both of those are very nitpicky examples to try and be illustrative with current games. I think as an industry we have discovered that most of the time people want a compelling story or plot that they can play through, and that sort of sits on top of their playing in big open worlds. For every Skyrim or WoW or SWTOR that people have they also want some CoD's, some Uncharteds,and some Mass Effect's. There's room in the market for everything, and when you're competing for gamers time more than money you don't really want to sell them a game they can't play. You can bet big, and win, like skyrim, which is also the 5th in a series, but you could also bet big and have no one know who you are (Divinity II: Ego Draconis).

  • Omaha Beach (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:39PM (#39024935) Journal

    Medal of Honor was created by Steven Spielburg, who directed Saving Private Ryan. Accordingly, the assault on Omaha Beach in MoH:Allied Assault is the closest thing I've seen to Saving Private Ryan in game form. And you know what? It works extremely well. That is still one of the most compelling game sequences I've ever played, some 10 years after the fact.

  • Re:Do both! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:39PM (#39024937)

    Yeah, it's just one developer (who has had success at his limited model) opinion.

    Jaffe's most famous game, God of War, was pretty much the definition of near perfect gameplay for its genre, but had almost no plot to speak of beyond "let's get some revenge!" I got bored and stopped playing about half way though.

    On the other hand, Uncharted 2 (which had a lot of gameplay mechanics borrowed from GoW) had brilliant voice acting and a solid plot, and I couldn't put it down until I finished it.

    In the end video games basically involve starting at a screen and mashing buttons. If they don't give you a decent reason to mash those buttons, you might as well be starting at a wall...

  • by Dr Max ( 1696200 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @05:50PM (#39025107)
    Maybe I'm a bit biased cause I'm all about the game play. Give me a bunch of maps and really clever bots over scripted, one path to victory, invisible wall games with a really clever plot; but isn't it easier to turn an open world free game into a game based around a plot, than the other way around. You can reuse all the open world stuff again and again then improve it and use it again. With plot driven games a lot can't be reused, because too much is depended on having the exact environment and timing as before.
  • by Dr Max ( 1696200 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @06:17PM (#39025587)
    I don't believe he is arguing the value of a story, only how the story is told. For example (this is probably beyond our current tech) a WW2 game where instead of following captain price everywhere he goes, the entire war is simulated across Europe. Then you and maybe in command of a crack team of soldiers, or cut of from your platoon have to make it across Europe doing as much damage to the enemy forces as possible (you can have a radio to use for guidance but you can go any where or try anything). Suddenly the game isn't about a bunch of made up people running around winning the war single handed because they followed a pre-set path, it's about history, and you can have some fun with it (do you want to try and assassinate Hitler or launch some v2s at Berlin and steal one of the first jet planes).
  • by thefixer(tm) ( 1906774 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @06:49PM (#39026107)
    Different category entirely. UT and Quake are games you play against other humans. Same applies to sports games against people. People are infinitely diverse, so if you play a person, you get infinite diversity. Now Madden NFL, and the real to admit it or not, has plot. You pick a team, play a game or a season differently and you will get a different season. Your season's and games change every time you play. The game would be phenomenally boring if it was the same every time you played it. The complexity of the engine is creating a plot for you. Takes into account your play, what and how you've done in a season and adapts.

    And I'm sorry, but you didn't play UT for 3 years and stay on the same map with the same game even you need variation in the plot to keep you interested.
  • by HapSlappy_2222 ( 1089149 ) on Monday February 13, 2012 @07:02PM (#39026259)
    I agree. If I wanted a game that goes out of it's way to remove all attempts at having a story, I'd buy something like Twisted Metal (Turismo-Kart with Juggalos?). I *like* to walk the line between "movie" and "game" by taking control of a character and pitting myself against the game's characters, and then being rewarded for my prowess by uncovering the next part of the story (via cut-scene, an unexpected character development, or a new level to explore). I know that I'm not the only one.

    Frankly, I find games that have ZERO story to be trite and stupid - even if the gameplay totally rocks, it's very difficult for me to get absorbed into the game such that I even finish it, let alone play it twice. Notable exceptions are games that are meant to be only multi-player, such as a racing game or a WW2 fps, but for games like, say, resident evil, or the zelda franchise - why would anyone play a game like that without knowing at least a little of the world they're heading into? That seems a silly thing to expect. On top of that, many multiplayer games also have single player story-driven campaigns: Warhammer 40k, Starcraft to name just two franchises. I'd truly hate to see those go, and if they do, it just might be what turns me away from gaming.

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