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Default Avadon - A Case Study In Storytelling

August 25th, 2012, 12:26
Jeff Vogel gave a talk at a conference titled Casual Connect about the advantages of storytelling in games and making their most successful game, Avadon. It's about 20 minutes and probably something only for Spiderweb's fans but his usual humour shows through and I found it quite interesting. Here's some of the introduction on Jeff's blog:
The most interesting thing about Casual Connect? How weird anyone who sells software in the old school way is made to feel. Here's what I do: I write a game. I give it to you in return for a set number of dollars. Then we part ways, and you never have to look at my pale, beardy face again.
This model is so incredibly retro now! Pay money for a game? Nonsense! Everyone real makes their money with microtransactions and advertising and nickle and diming you for packs of 100 Dragon Bux you can use to make your zombie ninja pirate dragon grow faster. And if you make money any other way, people in suits will act very nervous and not make eye contact with you anymore.
If you end up at Casual Connect and talking to actual grown-up business people, I suggest you do what I did: Have a firm, manly handshake. Make eye contact. Say "monetize" and "ARPU" as much as possible. And then pee yourself.
More information.
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August 25th, 2012, 12:26
1. He admits here that he didn't give players as many choices and consequences in Avadon (increases development costs).

2. It's clear he's a programmer first and a storyteller second - his explanation of how to write one is a bit ad libbed and vague.

3. Facepalm of the day: "up until the ending, I think Mass Effect 3 is really one of the great pieces of computer game writing and world building".
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August 25th, 2012, 15:21
Originally Posted by Gaxkang View Post
1. He admits here that he didn't give players as many choices and consequences in Avadon (increases development costs).

2. It's clear he's a programmer first and a storyteller second - his explanation of how to write one is a bit ad libbed and vague.

3. Facepalm of the day: "up until the ending, I think Mass Effect 3 is really one of the great pieces of computer game writing and world building".
1) Did anyone who played it come to a different conclusion?

2) Seeing as how he funds his own games and how most immature industries do not know how to put on a professional presentation, he did extremely, extremely well. After watching this and seeing how many slides he used I got curious and searched for other game developer presentations, and they are all slide crazy. The standard in non-shitty colleges, universities, and mature industries is information-lite slides with snappy bullets, the presenter expounds on topics and the majority of information comes from the presenter. Why listen to a presentation when you can read it? Busy people with more work than time would never sit through a presentation of mine if I could just send them the slides and they could just read it. Just as I would never join a conference call where I could just read the information being relayed.

I adlib all my presentations because I know what I am talking about. I read my crowd and adjust to them. Prepared speech presentations bore the shit out of me, and I would literally walk out of a business presentation of someone who is just speaking the information I can read off a slide. When he was adlibbing he was doing it right. And having played through many of his games I can vouche that he can tell a story.

3) I don’t understand why you would put your palm on your face over this statement. How was Mass Effect not good story telling?
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August 25th, 2012, 16:11
I am currently playing Geneforge 1 and enjoying it - to me it is like an isometric, open world Gothic game. He threads stories in Geneforge very well as his text makes up for the lack of modern graphics, and he does it very well.
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August 25th, 2012, 18:18
Yup, as far as indie rpg's go, Vogel is one of the best, I've never felt robbed for what I've paid for any of his games. 90%+ of the triple a titles leave me feeling dirty afterwards, tbh. I'd really like to see what Vogel could do with, say, a 5-10 million dollar budget.


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August 25th, 2012, 20:20
@Impregnator

1) Not much room for 'conclusions' - direct quote at 15:20 "Avadon did not end up with as many decisions and decision points and endings as I wanted it to have". I think even a Jeff fanboy like me has to (apart from this presentation) admit that Avadon's C&C were a missed opportunity. Would have loved for there to be a real struggle to choose between Tawon and Avadon, eg if one was chaotic good and the other lawful evil.

2) Have you ever seen the topic of "storytelling" presented by a writer that's published stuff that sold well? World of difference to what Jeff did.

3) Covered in a thousand threads on rpgwatch alone, will derail thread if I rehash. Key points being - deus ex machina, contrivances, lack of narrative cohesion, inconsistent with own lore and basic logic. Summed up here.
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August 25th, 2012, 22:53
Originally Posted by Gaxkang View Post
3. Facepalm of the day: "up until the ending, I think Mass Effect 3 is really one of the great pieces of computer game writing and world building".
Up until the ending: does it include the ending? This developper mocked people who thought the ending was a huge let down.
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August 28th, 2012, 02:55
Originally Posted by Gaxkang View Post
@Impregnator

1) Not much room for 'conclusions' - direct quote at 15:20 "Avadon did not end up with as many decisions and decision points and endings as I wanted it to have". I think even a Jeff fanboy like me has to (apart from this presentation) admit that Avadon's C&C were a missed opportunity. Would have loved for there to be a real struggle to choose between Tawon and Avadon, eg if one was chaotic good and the other lawful evil.

2) Have you ever seen the topic of "storytelling" presented by a writer that's published stuff that sold well? World of difference to what Jeff did.

3) Covered in a thousand threads on rpgwatch alone, will derail thread if I rehash. Key points being - deus ex machina, contrivances, lack of narrative cohesion, inconsistent with own lore and basic logic. Summed up here.
1) I'm definitely not disagreeing and claiming it had good C&C, just that I didn’t even know it was supposed to. Your first initial point made it seem like it did. On the other hand, games with pretty good C&C are often ignored, like Hammer & Sickle.

2) I’ve seen writers speak about storytelling, yes. I’ve also heard writers read speeches about it. I think this was supposed have more of a business slant, as he had a powerpoint (or PDF) presentation.

3) I honestly dislike BioWare’s games tremendously. I wanted to not like Mass Effect, but they are the three BioWare games I like. I absolutely enjoyed the story so I just can’t put the palm of my hand in my face and all the implications that go with that gesture. I thought it was great. I disliked the actual game part, but the story, setting, and characters I completely enjoyed. I have what is generally considered - and I really hate to float my own boat here but I will – impeccable taste. I only like good things. So if I like it, it is good. If I don’t, it is not. And you can take that to the bank.

People on this site tend to disagree with me, but they do not have impeccable taste. And they are confusing. For instance: they claim to hate corporations yet buy up all the slop every major corporation comes out with, whereas I did not buy Dragon Age 2, Oblivion, “Fallout” 3, Skyrim, and all the other shit big corporations spew out like monkey shit and everyone lapse up like good little mindless-consumer-dogs, and I have zero issues with corporation in general (but do have issues with individual corporations for specific reasons, like those motherfuckers at Bank of America). The only conclusion would be there taste in things to hate is as poor as their taste in games. Oh well, if everyone had impeccable taste like I do who would be left to be gloat?
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August 28th, 2012, 04:47
Originally Posted by Impregnator View Post
I only like good things. So if I like it, it is good. If I don’t, it is not. And you can take that to the bank.
I think I must have impeccable taste as well, and the fact that I liked the Mass Effect trilogy (including the ending) obviously coincides with your tastes. At the same token, I also bought Fallout 3, Skyrim, and Oblivion and have never finished any of them (though I stayed away from Dragon Age 2, despite liking the first quite a bit), so I guess I can unashamedly admit to being a bit of a corporate lapdog (what can I say, sometimes I get caught in the hype). Oh well, I got my money's worth out of Skyrim. Oblivion was awesome until I began recognizing the awful level/loot scaling. And Fallout 3…well, it didn't really grip me. New Vegas, on the other hand, was pretty awesome.

I have never played a Jeff Vogel game, but he has done some pretty good stuff in the industry and I certainly respect his opinions.
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August 29th, 2012, 03:41
Originally Posted by rossrjensen View Post
I think I must have impeccable taste as well, and the fact that I liked the Mass Effect trilogy (including the ending) obviously coincides with your tastes. At the same token, I also bought Fallout 3, Skyrim, and Oblivion and have never finished any of them (though I stayed away from Dragon Age 2, despite liking the first quite a bit), so I guess I can unashamedly admit to being a bit of a corporate lapdog (what can I say, sometimes I get caught in the hype). Oh well, I got my money's worth out of Skyrim. Oblivion was awesome until I began recognizing the awful level/loot scaling. And Fallout 3…well, it didn't really grip me. New Vegas, on the other hand, was pretty awesome.

I have never played a Jeff Vogel game, but he has done some pretty good stuff in the industry and I certainly respect his opinions.
I’m a corporate bitch when it comes to movies so I can’t really fault people for loving the videogame blockbusters…but I still do. I love the big summer blockbusters, and I dislike artsy movies. I hate romances but I like some romantic comedies like, in example, almost every Adam Sandler movie. Once in a while there is a good artsy movie, like Doubt or Dogville, but give me a new comic book super hero movie any day of the week.

My wife was whining about how we only watch good movies and never stupid, shitty movies, so she got to pick one of the stupid, shitty ones she likes. She picked My Big Fat Greek Wedding and about half way through I was seriously thinking about committing suicide to make it stop. And then two days later we watched a movie on the woman channel about this teenage girl who commits suicide over cyber bullying and it somehow was even worse than the retarded wedding movie. I said I couldn’t take more of her choices so we made a rule where we both decide what movie to watch, which turned out to mean we each have veto power. Now we just look through the menus saying no to each other’s choices for 30 minutes before deciding to part ways. Sometimes having impeccable taste is really a burden.
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September 5th, 2012, 03:48
Originally Posted by Gaxkang View Post

3. Facepalm of the day: "up until the ending, I think Mass Effect 3 is really one of the great pieces of computer game writing and world building".
wow.

1 town
most npcs dont say a word
or have any ai
samey missions
shepard has zero emotion- because he has to say every line in 2 ways- evil/good- conversations get insanely ridicious
you can start with a paragon choice
and shepard smiles
next you pick the bad choice- and even though the whole conversatio was polite shepard still shoots them in the face

its not a bad game
in fact i think its a great game with a shit ending
however its a corridor shooter with heavy rpg overtones

1 town- in the whole galaxy
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September 5th, 2012, 06:33
ME3 did have some good to excellent moments, but to call it "one of the great pieces of computer game writing and world building" suggests a lack of critical thinking skills.

For example, all of those hoards of mutants that appeared out of the woodwork, or skies, or just plain thin air. Even the poorest quality horror or scifi movie would have made some effort, believable or not, to explain the presence of the mutants and how they connected to the Reapers. Were the Reaper ships just big flying mutant factories or what?

"Hey Scottie, we just finished another batch of mutants. Beam 'em on down to earth asap."

This alone makes the writing a far cry removed from greatness.

Maybe BioWare just thought that mutants worked great in DA:O so they should be acceptable in ME3? Who knows?

How about all of those menacing zombies from ME2? Where did they come from? And why did they essentially disappear in ME3? This can't be a great piece of computer writing without all of those zombies.

What happened to all of that scary people juice? You know, the people juice that was made by dissolving the people in the capsules. Were there a bunch of reaper creatures sitting around in those ships drinking people juice for nighttime cocktails? No wonder the Reapers didn't want the synthetics to eliminate organics! No more people juice.

Plenty of overly sappy scenes and over sappy music. Various boring fetch quests with no logical purpose except take up time.

And the horrible scary squid spaceships. Was there any functional purpose whatsoever in the design other than scary walking spaceship monsters? At least a small attempt at some purpose in the design would have gone a long way. Heck, even a single character saying "What's with the strange design of those reaper ships?" would have helped.

Why was the hoard focused on Earth. Were they out to get Shepard's mom, or what?

Numerous instances of shallow dialog. Numerous cinematic scenes that were just too long.

There were segments, and there were moments in ME3 that were indeed very good. But to say call it "one of the great pieces of computer game writing" is more than a bit over the top.

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September 5th, 2012, 11:36
Originally Posted by RPGFool View Post
ME3 did have some good to excellent moments, but to call it "one of the great pieces of computer game writing and world building" suggests a lack of critical thinking skills.
Could it be that this statement of "great pieces of computer game writing and world building" came from a shooter games fan ?

Because I have the suspicion that shooter game players have different measures in that respect …

Perhaps FPS games just don't have the usual complexity of storytelling RPGs often have ?

If so, then ME3 could be really something "great" to someone who just isn't used to better storytelling (which RPG players in general are).

Which would also mean that RPG players are more demanding.

It would be someone who is used to eat 10 different flavours of porrige to suddenly get a meal of cereals.

“ Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.“ (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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