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Default Rampant Coyote - Why the Quest for Story Will Fail

March 6th, 2008, 21:26
Jay Rampant Coyote Barnson's latest musings on game design is titled Why the Quest for Story in Video Games Will Fail and explores linear stories versus player interactivity:
In some ways, I think game developers are trying too hard. They are over-applying the rules of linear storytelling to a degree that it distracts from the point of a game - to be interactive. The stories need to be interactive, too. Maybe not on the level that Chris Crawford is trying to achieve, but on the level where it invites the player's imagination to participate as a co-author. Instead, the player is too often forced to disengage their active participation so they can be force-fed a cut-scene. The result is a disjointed feeling where the player has two juxtaposed stories he's trying to reconcile - the one he or she is imagining as they play, and another one thrust upon them that may not jibe with how the game is playing out in their mind.
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March 6th, 2008, 21:27
I can agree with the jist of this article. NWN2 OC is a good example of this. The story wasn't necessarily bad at all, but the long cut scenes really distracted. A few small cut scenes can really add to a story I think, but most of what goes on needs to be interactive.

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March 6th, 2008, 21:52
I haven't read Rampant's essay yet, but whenever a developer talks about making a game more of a "cinematic" experience, I shudder. It's losing focus on the main point: it's a GAME first and foremost.
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March 6th, 2008, 22:23
I can hardly wait for Rampant Coyote's next two articles, "Why There's No Hope For World Peace" and "Why There's No Life After Death."

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
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March 6th, 2008, 23:07
Squeek: I've got those two planned after my next essay, "Why Your Parents Never Loved You." It's gonna be a hoot!

Chamr: that's partially my point. Everyone complains about poor stories in games, and I keep seeing designers "try harder" by borrowing ever more heavily from linear media… and it doesn't work. Sometimes it makes it worse. You just aren't going to ever have a "great story" by traditional standards in a game. But you can have a game where the player experiences a truly wonderful story.
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March 7th, 2008, 02:28
Originally Posted by Squeek View Post
I can hardly wait for Rampant Coyote's next two articles, "Why There's No Hope For World Peace" and "Why There's No Life After Death."
Both true - what would Jay have to write about?

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March 7th, 2008, 02:32
i have to completely disagree, on cutscenes killing a game, especially in the case of nwn2. its really movie quality acting, and better than most television so i fail to see how it is a 'waste' or detracts from a game. sure if that's all the game offers than it becomes less of a game and more an interactive movie. but for me there is no problem there. i actually think the notion of choice in a game is far to 'overstated' by some people. it is a game for heavens sakes. books have been around for millenia and you don't hear (well sometimes you do) about peoples disastifaction with a certain characters development or an unhappy ending. i believe maybe its those people who aren't loved by there parents and need to be more 'accepting'
also most importantly the majority of video games are not a 'creative endeavor' but rather the enjoyment of someone elses, so regardardless of what we do in a game it we are only doing it at as fortunate benefactors of some imaginative folks out there. i would argue that we are only slightly better than armchair quarterbacks who also take their 'role' seriously. why many games give us more and more chances to actually affect the outcome it still doesn't change the bottom line: "what goes on in a video game, stays in a video game".
mod designers and map designers do take an extra step, which often propells them into the industry but for most of us we don't make it that far.
i'm grateful for the video game medium and look forward to its evolution. but will i ever concern myself to much with getting worked up over that evolution? no i'd rather focus those efforts on doing something creative, or fighting for my liberties that are fading in the real world not the one of cantrips and catsuits.
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March 7th, 2008, 03:51
In fact, when the story is good, it's actually worse. I mean, having a great story is nice, but when it comes to the point that I care more about it than the game itself, then the game cease being fun and become a tedious obstacle. This is especially true with JRPGs, who focus a lot on the story.

I believe that a game should only have a basic story, like in the old days where most of it was in the manual, and then give as much freedom to the player as possible. Anyone who played pen & paper RPGs will probably agree.

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March 7th, 2008, 10:21
I can understand the points but I play for the experience not just the gameplay. Sure, the occasional Tetris or solitaire can pass a few minutes here and there but it is the story elements in Puzzle Quest that made me continue to play after the initial 10-15 novelty rounds was over.

Without a story there is no focus. Without focus there is no point in playing and I find something else to play. There has to be a balance of course. I started 3 additional replays of Mass Effect in order to try out the different career paths (Weapons, Tech and Biotics) but it was the story elements with the differences between Renegade and Paragon plus the character backgrounds that made me complete the game 2 more times (I'm awaiting the addon before finishing my current play through).

I've yet to experience a game where I felt interrupted or annoyed by the story (well, not counting uninterruptible cutscenes before a difficult sequence requiring several tries to pass successfully), but as I said I usually play for the experience, not the gameplay.

"Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks around, the whole board could've been a republic in a dozen moves." - Commander Vimes in Thud! by Terry Pratchett
Last edited by fatBastard(); March 7th, 2008 at 16:03.
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March 7th, 2008, 13:56
Like anything I guess it just depends on how well it's done. Games are an amalgamation of visuals, sounds, words, music and rules. They can be made with some or all of those elements and be successful. It's just the fact that games are produced as product and the industry doesn't really push for great stories - better to just look for good games instead.
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March 7th, 2008, 14:45
I really can't agree. I like story heavy games like NWN2 OC or the old Wing Commander games or Dreamfall. If the story is good AND fits with the game it's perfect. And especially in RPGs I do like to have a story. Weather it's told in cinematics or in dialog doesn't really matter to me. Of course I don't need a story for every game. Diablo for example or Supreme Commander or Sins of a Solar Empire don't need a story. Yes it would be nice but it isn't necessary. But a RPG? Where I want to live an adventure and change the world (or rescue the damsel in distress)? Without story just boring. And a story needs to be told. And how that is done doesn't really matter.
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March 7th, 2008, 18:10
The Wing Commander cut scenes always seemed to enhance the story, same with Command & Conquers Red Alert. However, neither are real role-playing games, so while the story is very important, your actions (other than advancing to the next level), unlike a role-playing game, don't determine that much of how the story progresses.

With NWN2 OC, they seemed to dampen it somewhat. I think part of the problem was the length of them, but also that at times, they just didn't seem well done.

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March 7th, 2008, 22:01
Well, I am not really arguing that games can't have stories, or that you can't have a good story in a game. But so long as we have to sacrifice the ideals of what makes a "great story" upon the altar of gameplay, we will never be able to have a "great story" (by linear media standards) in games. Or you sacrifice gameplay in order to have your magnum opus presented in full glory to a player who thought he was going to be allowed to play.

But the flip side of my argument is that you can have better than that if you revise your definition, and focus your storytelling efforts on player immersion and emotional engagement. In other words, find a happy medium —- and if we revise our definitions and quit trying to shoehorn great linear storytelling into an interactive medium - we can have something better.
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