Gamasutra - GDC: Deconstructing the Best Interactive Storytelling
Gamasutra posts a look at a presentation from the currently ongoing Games Developers Conference, where several game designers examine successful storytelling in games they have played.
From the intro:
“Sound familiar?” Richard Rouse (Midway Games) asked, opening the afternoon game design session ... with quotes including “stories are irrelevant to games” and “stories in games can’t compete with other mediums.” He then offered his own “contrarian thesis,” that the best game storytelling can stand up to the storytelling in any other medium.
To attempt to support his point, he invited Marc Laidlaw (Valve Software) Steve Meretzky (Blue Fang) and Ken Rolston (Big Huge Games) to nominate and play a selection of eight games that they considered the best at storytelling, and debate them in front of the audience.
The games include several familiar to RPG players, including Planescape Torment:
Planescape Torment was Ken Rolston’s pick, and he introduced it’s plot humourously: “You are THE NAMELESS ONE, I’m saying it like that so you know it’s all capital letters.”
“This is a long game, whatever it’s virtues are,” he continued, “RPGS are the epics or the novels of gaming. But this a game where you can collect your own intestines -- you can collect body parts and use them as weapons -- they even have stuff written on them! A weapon that’s your own body part that has exposition on it! It’s delicious!”
He concluded, “we will never see it’s like again -- it’s like Moby Dick, you’ve done it once, you don’t need it again. It’s like Chinese literature … certainly in terms of the quality of the commentary on it -- it enriches and becomes part of it.”
Rouse enjoyed the explorable text aspect of it: “I certainly didn’t finish it but I liked how it’s really quite funny, even with some really serious subject matter,” while Laidlaw felt it “joins the racks of great works of literature, like the Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina that I will never finish.”
On Thief: Deadly Shadows:
Marc Laidlaw’s pick, he argued that one could not “overstate the importance of the writing in this game.”
“The thing that they did the best was an amazing job on the atmosphere,” he said, but “another thing they did especially well at the time was understanding the limitation of the cut scenes [at the time] and used silhouettes with limited animation.”
Rolston again couldn’t agree, but in (at least) a more positive way: “I was sucked into the gameplay: I didn’t pay any attention to the story. I was so immediately transported from a common state of mind for winning: to kill, that I was doing something new by knocking people out and hiding their bodies that I paid no attention.”
Rouse found the title “very hard to return to from a visual stand point. It’s supposed to be grounded in reality but it looks like a quake level.”
On Chronicles of Riddick:
[Chronicles of Riddick:]The Fools Errand, Meresky’s second pick, he felt that even 20 years later, the few hours he spent organising the “sun map” in the end game was “some of the most fun hours of gaming he had ever had,” requiring him to pour over the story of the game to unravel the puzzle.
Rolston’s surprising second pick was The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a game that by his very own admission used conventions he had “always sneered at,”: opening with a flashback, playable dream sequences, but felt that it deserved study as a title with a true “performer” in the form of Vin Diesel’s Riddick.
Meretsky couldn’t have had a more different experience: “I didn’t want to spend time with him and I certainly didn’t want to be him, he quipped.”