Telling the Story
I was reading a post at the Game Life blog about how storytelling in games needs to evolve. The gist of it is that it's been about forty years now since the first primitive games came about, and that's about how long it took movies to fully realize the potential of their medium, so shouldn't game stories be evolving along the same lines? Games need to get away from trying to mimic movie and novel narratives and develop their own styles, as a fundamentally different medium.
Here's to hoping that Bioshock is the next step. "Emergent" gameplay will hopefully give way to an emergent story, right? Just wondering if there will be a traditional linear narrative with choices to make just sort of... tacked on (a la Splinter Cell: Double Agent), or if the choices will truly affect and shape the story like I hope they will. If I play the game over and over, is the story going to change every time, or just the way I go about it?
Perhaps story is the wrong word. Regardless, any thoughts on any of that?
I don't know how I really feel about that, since I have no problems with the way stories in games are being told now (although a lot of FPS's have generic stories, stuff like BS does come along). However, I always like to see the bonds for anything being pushed by some original creative force.
With that said, wouldn't be too hard to have a constantly evolving story each time you play? The idea could come off as brilliant if ever done, but cheap as well. Didn't Indigo Prophecy try something like that? While playing your story could end at any point if you failed but it felt pretty tacked on (great game, lousy second half).
Bioware keeps pushing the whole 'It's your galaxy' saying with Mass Effect and I'll be interested to see how that turns out (plus I need me some space RPG loving).
There's a lot of theory about morphology and deconstruction of the story or tale as narrative and it's basically been said that there are only seven stories that are re-told over and over again in different forms. All characters are theorised to be re-workings of archetypal characters from classic literature and the it's been said that the role of the writer is to 're-translate' those old stories to keep them fresh for the current generation (ultimately they're either cautionary or morality tales).
The way the elements of narrative are encapsulated in the video game can possibly be unique to the genre, but not the elements themselves (if a story is to be told).
I'd like to see gameplay reflect and explore theme. I think that would be the next step in bringing games more towards the mainstream.
Edit: I don't think there are bad stories, just bad writing. There is the other extreme— check out the Pathologic demo for examples of impressionist writing in a videogame and how badly it fogs the entire narrative. Maybe it's just a bad translation but it almost seems to be a Dadaist's take on Morrowind.
Last edited by Hatesink; 06-02-2007 at 06:23 PM.
Thematically and content wise stories in games are fundementally no different from stories in other media. But the means in which they are told can be very different.
Currently stories in game are at a pretty basic state in terms of both thematic content and structual representation. Thematically game stories are generally weak because they are written by people who just plain aren't great writers. But that, I think, is not the topic at hand.
Structurally most of the time story and game are disconnected, with one being essentially seperate from the other. Deus Ex, System Shock, Bioshock et al try and change this by making the development of the story directly tied to the exploration of the world, ala the more you explore the world the more you learn about the game. Still that's only one possible way to go.
As for "changing all the time" that's unlikely, as in order to be emotional meaningful a certain degree of linearity (sp?) is required, at least with the current generation of technology (Specifically software technology, simply put creating emotional resonance in a non-linear freeform game is still an unsolved problem). So for the moment it makes sense for games to mimic the storytelling methods of films and novels because those methods have been around for a very long time and are known to work.
Yes developers should be looking towards ways to telling compelling and emotive stories in a game-specific way, ala creating a Game based language for narrative instead of using a filmic or literary language. But the development of such a "Language for Game Narrative" is a long process Bioshock will likely (Given Irrationals past games) be one step towards that goal but it will still only be one step of potentially thousands or even millions.
Entire books have been written on this topic, several in fact, one of the better ones being Janet H. Murray's Hamlet On The Holodeck (Which I've now read something like four times).
I guess I need to read some of those books!
I do agree that lots of times it seems like the writing cripples an otherwise fine story, or sometimes it's the terrible voice acting. But even in well written, well acted games (like metal gear solid) the story seems to be what comes up "between" the gameplay. I don't think games should abandon trying to tell a "movie" type of story per se, just that it should be better integrated into the gameplay. I guess that's what I was trying to get at when I said maybe story isn't the right word. I think that the emotional response you have should be able to change depending on how you play. It's not just "point and shoot what moves" and then you watch a cutscene. So if I play Bioshock multiple times maybe I'll feel sad where I felt triumphant the first time, because as Hatesink said the basic elements of all stories are fairly concrete, but I think in an interactive medium like this our responses to the story should be just as emergent as the gameplay.
So, not necessarily changing the entire landscape of the storytelling itself, just the way it affects us through the interactivity.
Ok, maybe I'm way off topic here, but think of games like the new Legend of Zelda. I was almost moved to tears at the end of that game. It wasn't because of the voice acting (mostly grunts and laughter). It wasn't because of the story (sort of silly and predictable). It wasn't because of the gameplay (repetitive). It was because I grew attached to the characters!
All of them were believable in the world they were in. They acted how you thought they would have (a good thing in this game). They all had problems that they had to overcome, weather it be a lack of courage, a lack of hope, ect. It was one of the few times when I was rooting for the good guy! (I root for the bad guys because the good guys act stupid and look stupid imo.) Anyway, I just didn't want character development to be overlooked.
I agree with Hatesink in that there only seem to be a hand full of different stories to tell, but the stories can be so much more interesting, and meaningfull if there are good characters. I think my bigest problem with games today, is that If you want solid characters, you need an RPG. I think this idea should start branching out into other games. Bioshock seems to be doing this.
Edit: One of the things that makes characters so much more meaningfull, was that there were part where if you lost in the game, you didn't die. The people you cared about did. And you started to feel like if you didn't try your hardest, you had failed on a whole level more than just the game. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for wolves.
Last edited by Nias Wolf; 06-02-2007 at 05:17 PM.
diffrent story developments are all ways good in a game
it greatly influences the replayability and just makes it more fun and it keeps you thinking what if
The issue at hand isn't the storys themselves, but how they are told. As someone mentioned earlier, story is what happens between the gameplay. Thats the way games work. TV shows, movies, and books only have their story and it has to be told. The focus of games is to have fun and to play the game, not to watch or read it. This is why gameplay takes the focal point. For most games you have to be pulled out of the gameplay for the story to be told. There simply is no other way to do it for most genres.
Another issue is that game stories have to stretch out to fill the game. This is where they start to lose things. Movies average at 1.5 to 2 hours long, games are 10 hours and up, in most cases. As far as the visual mediums go, games have the weakest stories and they last the longest. A lot of story in games feels like filler that it could have done without. Games are trying to emulate books, when they should be looking at movies and TV shows for story. Episodic content could be a way to evolve storytelling in games as it lets the developer focus on one small part at a time and it will let authors do the same thing.
Speaking of storytelling, I personally would like to see a Bioshock prequel in a novel, through multiple points of view like scientists and just regular citizens of rapture during the war. How bout the rest of you guys?
I wish that there will be a good story. Until now I only have seen many different ways in killing something. I very much hope there will be a good story around that...