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Default Obsidian Entertainment - MCA: Story not as important as game systems

August 5th, 2009, 00:45
Chris Avellone speaks to Destructoid, saying story is important - but not as important as some other things:
"It's important. I don't think it's as important as systems design (which is moment-to-moment entertainment), or level design (which gives the systems a context), but the story is an important piece that gives systems and level a reason to exist, and helps to compel the player to move forward," explains Avellone. "Don't get me wrong, I love narrative and character design, but I prefer to create story and character mechanics that are game systems rather than divorced from the systems or levels — when the story is a mechanic, in terms of reactivity, perks, mission changes, and open/closing of hubs and endgame choices, I think that's the purpose of a game story.
"In terms of improving stories for games, I feel that narrative designers should study writing conventions outside of games, both in scriptwriting and in other media, such as novels and graphic novels. In addition, a story should not be divorced from the actual gameplay, it should reinforce it, give it purpose, and when possible, work in tandem with a game's systems and themes.
I don't think too many people would argue.
In related news, Chris will join a panel debating story vs gameplay at this year's GDC. From Gamasutra:
In the panel 'Clash Of The Titans: Debating Gameplay vs. Story', major game writing notables including Chris Avellone (Fallout 2, Alpha Protocol), Rhianna Pratchett (Overlord series, Heavenly Sword), Christian Allen (Ghost Recon), and Andrew Walsh (Prince of Persia, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) discuss conflicts between gameplay and storytelling, and how to resolve them.
More information.
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August 5th, 2009, 00:45
I think he's *totally* right in what he is saying there. It's just that most RPGs do a really crap job of implementing it.

Maybe Alpha Protocol will come through on some of that. Also, while I appreciate that dialogues in it will change a lot of stuff, I still really hate the idea of games taking away my precious camera control during conversations. I hate getting shoved into cutscenes everytime I want to talk to anyone.

Also, many people will totally disagree with him. It appears that, for many people, RPGs should be lengthy stories with tons of narrative, where you have crap gameplay in between the "servings of story." It's become so "experience based", it seems most people just want to be told a story rather than being given the opportunity to make the story yourself (there will always be boundaries of course, but the general idea of it) through choices.
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August 5th, 2009, 04:20
Is there any RPG that presents dialogue like Half-Life 2? In envision a system in which you are still in full control of your movements, and NPCs act around you while tracing you with their heads or walk alongside you. All you'd need is to include some form of interface which lets you choose answers. Also, some of the choices could be acted out, like drawing a weapon, simply walking way (insulting the NPCs), calling security, etc.
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August 5th, 2009, 04:48
I think he's right in that a game, in the end needs to be fun regardless of story. I also don't think that any game has ever been built solely on story, from the beginning. They have always been built around what type of game they'll be.

None of this excuses a piss poor story though, unless the game makes it clear that it doesn't need one and in that case, the gameplay had better be good.
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August 5th, 2009, 05:32
This seems kinda like asking what is more important, food or water? You die faster with no water so I guess it's more important but, without food, you're just as dead.

Personally, I liked the first Xenosaga game a lot. It had BIG cut scenes, some half an hour long, that turned a lot of people off. I just sat back and enjoyed the show. When the game started again, I played that. It worked great for me.

Xenosaga 2, though proved Chris' point. The story was still good but the combat gameplay was just awful. Build up, build up, build up, build up… over and over and over, then finally attack. Try to attack without being fully built up and you do dink damage. The story was still good but, when you have to slog through an hour of awful combat to see the next scene, it really takes away the fun.

On the other side of things, there's Far Cry 2. Gameplay was pretty good but, even for a first person shooter, the story was weak. Worse than that, all the spoken lines were… well… shrunk. All the empty space between words was removed! It was hard to even make out what they were saying, never mind pull any drama out of it. Even with some very good FPS gameplay, I got bored and quit it after getting half way through. Having no story is just as deadly as no gameplay, even if it takes longer to kill you off.
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August 5th, 2009, 07:38
What Zloth said. I'm partial to story myself, but I don't care for completely linear stories in games. I loved PS:T, but haven't been able to replay it because the gameplay is rubbish; OTOH I've quit any number of games halfway through because there wasn't enough story to keep me interested. Fallout 3 is the latest casualty.
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August 5th, 2009, 07:46
I also don't think that any game has ever been built solely on story, from the beginning.
I think PST was. Other elements were just addition to dialogues and other text.
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August 5th, 2009, 07:54
I'll grant you "primarily," but hardly "solely."
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August 5th, 2009, 10:46
Originally Posted by Thoth View Post
I also don't think that any game has ever been built solely on story, from the beginning. They have always been built around what type of game they'll be.
True by definition, since we're talking games, but some do come close to "pure narrative games". And I don't mean Planescape - Planescape has plenty of gameplay, much of which MCA feels fall short, as he explained in the interview available on RPGWatch.

I'm thinking more the period of long-ass FMV games, when CDs were breaking through as a primary gaming medium for both PC and consoles. Take the infamous Ripper FMV; dialogue options were just kind of fluff since you had to go through all of them anyway, it's got some puzzles and you have to figure out the clues, naturally, but it's pretty gameplay light. David Patrick Kelly is awesome in it, tho'. As is Chris Walken, naturalement.
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August 5th, 2009, 10:52
I agree with Chris on this one, but it's certainly not what I'm seeing in the modern industry.

Unless, of course, the systems and level designs in question are SUPPOSED to be hollow and rigidly linear respectively. It's as if people totally forget why those things are so appealing in the first place, and if you look at Mass Effect - for instance - the game is basically a movie first, and a game second.

Now, Obsidian are traditionally much better at adhering to the old-style train of thought, which I believe we debated recently. I guess this means Alpha Protocol won't be using the Mass Effect "system" afterall - which I take as good news.
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