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February 26th, 2007, 21:41
Games site Armchair Empire has begun a new series on storytelling in games, beginning with the classic Wizardry 1. As storytelling is a major component of RPG's, you might find this an interest read. Here's part of the introduction:
For many, storytelling is a very important part of their gaming experience. A gripping tale needs to be told, adding some context to whatever it is that the player has to do in each stage of a given game. Whether it’s something like Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Planescape Torment, or a classic Sierra adventure game, narrative plays a huge role in a lot of games.

That being the case, we plan to start a semi-regular feature, discussing story telling in games at the Armchair Empire. The topics discussed will be quite broad, and can range from discussing common themes in story telling, to narrative mechanisms, to comparative criticism, and a host of other areas. Generally these pieces will focus around a specific game or two, and look at them as examples to further our point, and to act as a way of keeping the whole article coherent. Seeing as this whole thing was my idea, it seems logical that I be the one to kick things off.
You'll find the entire article here .
More information.

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February 26th, 2007, 21:42
Interesting article. I agree that sometimes the best story or background is the one you make up yourself—in the Infinity engine games, I had a whole family lineage in the back of my head when I created my char, and I kind of ignored the motivations the written storyline provided and made up my own reasons for things like NOT rescueing Imoen—ever.

This is pretty true also:
In modern narrative games it can feel as though there is an invisible barrier between the player and the game. At the back of one’s head there’s the thought that we’re being guided on an adventure that is being controlled by a game designer.
NWN2 started out this way for me. As it progressed, it got more immediate and involving, but you always felt that hand in the small of your back pushing you along the story path to an inevitable conclusion.

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February 27th, 2007, 11:14
Safe to say I absolutely disagree with the guy from Armchair Empire. What he gives us here is a nostalgia tinted version of a game era that I hoped was gone for good until Bethesda released that contentless Elder Scrolls crap.
It's nice to hear that there are people like Jeff Nash from The Armchair Empire who are so easily to entertain - but not me, not anymore. The glorification of your own imagination as a substitution for lacking content is something that makes me angry. Storytelling is called storytelling because someone tells a story to someone else, if it were about someone making up a story for himself, they propaly would have given it another name. There is a reason why novels contain text and not just pictures.
Jeff Nash's approach is one that I have learned to totally reject over the years because it uses nicely sounding phrases to justify a style of gaming that I despise. People like him pretend that they are themselves highly creative and only need their own imagination to create places, characters and plot. Truth is that we're dealing here with a very narrow-minded and egocentric approach that focuses on things like character and setting, but dismisses story as negligible. Ask youself - would you ever buy a novel that contains no text, but just images, or watch a film that does only show scenery? I sure wouldn't…
The argument that free exploration is at the heart of this approach is also nonsense, since every kind of exploration has the ultimate goal to find something AND to find out about it. In the Elder Scrolls games there is often no way to find even the slightest clue about certain places which makes them very boring places to explore. Of course you can use your own creativity to make something up, but let's face it - that's more speculation than imagination.
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February 27th, 2007, 14:26
The only games left really *telling* a story are imho Adventures.
Good adventures are like a good book.

Well, you can have it with other games as well, but I still believe that only Adventures are closest to books, imho.
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February 27th, 2007, 17:28
@ionstormsucks
Yes, you can argue that a game without a story is like a book without text, but a game isn't a book really is it? Card games, chess, board games, and their modern day successors, video games imply not the idea of narrative, but the concept of competition. You pit your wits against an adversary, not function as an audience.

An rpg, of course, does imply that you have characters doing something for a reason. How much or how little scripted story varies from game to game. I am not fond of sandbox rpgs either, but I think it's hard to play an rpg without your own imagination fleshing out the bones of the written elements.

Yes, arguing that "freedom' is better than a good tight storyline in an rpg is facile and a bit of a cop-out. But don't downgrade the power of your own mind to enhance even a good book or film—is it only the story in these cases, or the talent of the artist that involves you and gives the experience of immediacy and realism?

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February 27th, 2007, 21:00
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
Yes, arguing that "freedom' is better than a good tight storyline in an rpg is facile and a bit of a cop-out. But don't downgrade the power of your own mind to enhance even a good book or film—is it only the story in these cases, or the talent of the artist that involves you and gives the experience of immediacy and realism?
Well, I'm not saying that your imagination shouldn't play a role or that you should not use it. But since I'm an old P&P fan I will unavoidly compare every crpg with with its spiritual predecessor (yes, I know you can argue that Crpgs and P&P are two very different things, but I guess that's another discussion…). A common mistake nowadays seems to be to believe that roleplaying is just about playing a role and that this is the element that defines a game as a roleplaying game. Fact is however, that roleplaying involves at least as much storytelling as playing another character. The gamemaster tells a story to the players (and vice versa). As you well know, there is a lot of imagination involved in P&P - it's almost impossible without it. But still, your imagination is only part of the whole thing - it is the gamemaster who will, so to speak, guide you through the story. Now there are good gamemasters and bad ones. A good one will manage to guide you through a story without you realizing it.
For me it's the same with crpgs. A good Crpg is not linear - quite the contrary. It lets you do whatever you want to do and lets you venture wherever you want to. But that doesn't mean it has to be empty and lifeless like the Elder Scrolls series of games. In games like Oblivion there is a very bad gamemaster at work who just leans back, drinks his beer, eats his chips, and let's the players stumble around, clueless, untill they are bored and go home.
I think you could say that Baldur's Gate did quite well in that field. The player was guided, but was also quite free in his decisions. The game with the big F didn't do too bad either - it is certainly one of the most non-linear games on the market, but still offers a lot of story. How empty would "the Glow" be without all the computers and memos that you can find that actually tell you the story of what happened down there.
So is your imagination important - of course it is. It improves every game no matter if P&P or Crpg, but it's not a replacement for content.
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February 27th, 2007, 22:08
Originally Posted by Ionstormsucks View Post
Truth is that we're dealing here with a very narrow-minded and egocentric approach that focuses on things like character and setting, but dismisses story as negligible. Ask youself - would you ever buy a novel that contains no text, but just images, or watch a film that does only show scenery? I sure wouldn't…
But a book can contain text and not tell a story. A movie can contain images and not tell a story. A videogame may not contain a story - yet still be a game, since gameplay is the main element that defines videogames; their visual and textual components coming in second, and what those components do (like presenting a story) coming later.

No story is necessarily required for videogames as what drives a game are long or short term objectives or challenges which are set before players to overcome. Solitaire and Pacman tell no stories - are they not games? Space Invaders may have setting exposition or a contextualized challenge issued at players ("Save the Earth!"), but it is not telling a story. Several dungeon crawlers during the inception of videogames only gave you a task - kill the wizard, find the princess, retrieve the Mighty Gorgonzolla, or some variation thereof - and then pitted you against gameplay challenges like fighting endless hordes on a deep dungeon or labyrinth; these told no story either. They proposed a goal, then congratulated you when you accomplished it. Stories are only there to glorify the challenges set before players - many CRPGs have much lore and character dialogues but they mostly set you to do some mundane task or tasks which is actually what drives the game. You'd still have a game if the lore and dialogue was gone, but the gameplay would remain. If you took away the gameplay - but then it wouldn't be a game since it was lacking the interactive component.
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February 27th, 2007, 22:49
Originally Posted by Role-Player View Post
But a book can contain text and not tell a story. A movie can contain images and not tell a story. A videogame may not contain a story - yet still be a game, since gameplay is the main element that defines videogames; their visual and textual components coming in second, and what those components do (like presenting a story) coming later.
Well, apart from the fact that I was talking about novels and not books in general, how many books do you know that do NOT tell a story? We're not talking about poetry here, but prose - and I guess it's safe to say that at least 99.9% of that stuff is telling a story - one way or another. Same with movies - I'm not talking about documentations or something of that sort, but of something comparable to RPGs.

No story is necessarily required for videogames as what drives a game are long or short term objectives or challenges which are set before players to overcome. Solitaire and Pacman tell no stories - are they not games? Space Invaders may have setting exposition or a contextualized challenge issued at players ("Save the Earth!"), but it is not telling a story. Several dungeon crawlers during the inception of videogames only gave you a task - kill the wizard, find the princess, retrieve the Mighty Gorgonzolla, or some variation thereof - and then pitted you against gameplay challenges like fighting endless hordes on a deep dungeon or labyrinth; these told no story either. They proposed a goal, then congratulated you when you accomplished it. Stories are only there to glorify the challenges set before players - many CRPGs have much lore and character dialogues but they mostly set you to do some mundane task or tasks which is actually what drives the game. You'd still have a game if the lore and dialogue was gone, but the gameplay would remain. If you took away the gameplay - but then it wouldn't be a game since it was lacking the interactive component.
Well, the article is not dealing with videogames in general - it deals with RPGs. It also does not deal with what defines a game in general or RPG in particular, but how RPGs should be. The author thinks that sometimes less story is more - a statment that I opposed. I don't deny that a game is a game if you strip it of its story and neither do I deny that it can be a RPG. I'm just opposing the authors statement that rpgs with less story are better than those with a lot of story (well that's simplifying the whole discussion a bit, but anyway…).
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February 27th, 2007, 23:16
I had a feeling you came from the PnP world, ionstormsucks. I can imagine that colors your views. I always regret not having spent any gaming time there.

AFA this article, I agree with you to the extent that an rpg with little storyline lacks structure and dramatic tension. It would only help most rpgs to have a strong and well developed, well-scripted backbone to support the other elements.
The problem for a lot of developers seems to be finding a way to do this without bringing every fantasy cliche back from the grave, so that what we mostly see is repitition of the same types of plots—i.e., the Chosen One, the apocalyptic destruction of All Life, the Great Evil from another dimension, etc…I think at times I'd almost prefer them to say :"Hey—you're the good guy, you figure out what to do." because I can invent a lot better motivation than that my village has just been wiped out.

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February 28th, 2007, 00:03
Originally Posted by magerette View Post
The problem for a lot of developers seems to be finding a way to do this without bringing every fantasy cliche back from the grave, so that what we mostly see is repitition of the same types of plots—i.e., the Chosen One, the apocalyptic destruction of All Life, the Great Evil from another dimension, etc…I think at times I'd almost prefer them to say :"Hey—you're the good guy, you figure out what to do." because I can invent a lot better motivation than that my village has just been wiped out.
Hehe, true… unfortunately the fantasy genre, and to a certain extent the sifi genre as well are are loaded with a whole bunch of clichés. Good stories in RPGs are indeed fairly rare… somehow good stories in games are rare in general - which is a shame really. One of the very few games that in my opinion featured an almost superb story was Thief 1 (not a RPG, but anyway). It is one of the very few games that I began playing because I liked the gameplay and ended up playing because I wanted to see what happens next in the story. In a way you could argue that the story features also a few of the common clichés, but somehow it had enough surprising elements for me to keep on doing one mission after the other. When the Trickster took Garrets eye for example, I sat there at least a minute, with my mouth open, and rubbing my own two eyes. Well, I guess that Thief had the big advantage that it is a straight linear game, and it seems that stories are easier to convey that way.
Anyway, I wish that game companies, especially those that create RPGs would try to put a bit of their creativity into developing a nice story.
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February 28th, 2007, 00:11
Anyway, I wish that game companies, especially those that create RPGs would try to put a bit of their creativity into developing a nice story.
No joke. I sometimes wonder why more rpgs don't go the route of adapting a book. Films do it all the time. Of course, the written fantasy genre is pretty predictable, too. But there are exceptions. I know they tried this with Wheel of Time but I never managed to play that one.

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February 28th, 2007, 00:20
WofT was not made as an RPG, which is probably why it was never a great success!!

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