Interactive Narrative Means Choosing How Invested You Really Want to Be

Yahtzee Croshaw

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Interactive Narrative Means Choosing How Invested You Really Want to Be

Video game narrative has long been on the wrong path by trying to emulate movie storytelling, rather than using methods that play off the strengths of an interactive narrative.

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Transdude1996

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I can see where he's coming from, but there's also the other side of the argument that cutscenes are a requirement. While some game can get away with having most of the story hidden behind audio logs and journals, most of the ones that can pull it off are either horror games (To best summarize it), or games with an incredibly grand world. In faster-paced titles, this delivery of narrative becomes annoying rather quickly. A brief example is I can think of is Doom 3. When I was playing through that, it felt like a chore for me to go through every journal and listen to every audio log and watch every video. And, while none of that stuff really is "required", it does feel like you're obligated to go through every single one, or you'll miss out on majority of the story's context.

With the new DoOoOoOoM (To continue the joke), while I've yet to play it myself, I have seen a number of people complain that the story is too thin for the game to pull off. One example is that, apparently, one of the bosses later on is suppose to be set up as some sort of traumatic event, but if the reason behind the trauma is hidden behind numerous walls of text, then most of the people are going to miss the point of it.

As someone else pointed out, Wolfenstien: TNO was able to pull off both story and gameplay rather well without having to sacrifice one for the other. However, while I can't back this up as I've yet to play W:TNO as well, I can point to another game that I thought handled the baseline and deeper narrative rather well, F.E.A.R.. Given the game's fast-paced nature, the devs had to make sure the cutscenes (Or what amounted to a cutscene) and character chatter gave enough context without yanking the player out of the experience, but also placed the deeper narrative audio logs and journals sparsely enough and made them brief enough that the player didn't feel like they had to halt the entire game to see the deeper conflicts and reasonings within the story.
 

ImBigBob

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There are also those games that would benefit from LESS gameplay. There were a lot of parts in The Walking Dead and The Witcher 3 that made me wish I could stop playing the game so I could get to the next story cutscene, though the "gameplay" in a sense is the choices the player gets to make.
 

freaper

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The first Guild Wars did this really well, maybe by nature of being an (Instanced MMO)RPG, you could blaze through the whole campaign by following the main quests and missions, and garner a satisfying RPG experience, but a good chunk of the lore and world-building was hidden away in side-quests and NPC dialogue, which meant that you could spend triple the amount of time in the game to get to the true gems hidden in the world.
 

Thanatos2k

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The problem with cinematic linear stories is not the story, it's if they sacrifice gameplay in service of the story. You don't have to. Look at something like Bioshock.
 

Casual Shinji

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Or, you know, there isn't a wrong path, and there's plenty of room for everyone. There should never be one absolute form of gaming that subjugates all others. And it's this tune I've been hearing amongst many game critics that gives me the heebie jeebies. One of only the purest, most gameplay centered titles being approved, and all other forms deserving scorn and being labeled "wrong".

Where was this talk during the age of Silent Hill 2 and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time? Have these games retroactively become terrible now, and undeserved of the praise they received back then?

It's like ever since 2013, when The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite racked in a bunch of accolades for their story, that a certain amount of critics have been getting their panties in a bunch regarding the linear, story driven game. Like it's the leper of the industry now.
 

Barbas

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Not going to be a big surprise, but I have to agree. Some games work for a few minutes on building up their immersion - they get the lighting nice and moody, the sound design is great, the player's on tenterhooks - and then their view is snapped around to follow a couple of characters as they wander across a room explaining the plot, or to focus on a single person speaking directly the player while everything else is frozen. I don't mind this stuff much when it can be skipped, but surely enough games exist to prove that there are more interesting ways to drip-feed the story to the player without engaging the emergency brakes. The developers who understand this the best, I feel, are the ones who use some of the most subtle cues to draw attention in a particular direction just as a scene is about to play out in real-time. There's always that little chance the player could miss them, but I say why not let those who pay more attention feel rewarded?

I like little codex entries because they give the writers a bit of freedom to flex their creative muscles and write from whatever perspective they like. It doesn't have to be really dull and analytical stuff that reads like something taken from a briefing document.
 

weirdee

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Sadly, the DOOOOOOOOM map editor is very limited, so you can't even get close to a million demons in there, much less more than a handful at a time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss8SyOhqk1I

At least, not until somebody jailbreaks the thing for PC.
 

necromanzer52

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I must take umbrage with your assertion that all gamers are looking for a challenge. Just look at your own triumvirate of challenge, context and catharsis. Different people will have varying levels of interest in these three areas. Personally, I've never been able to stay invested in a game that gives me no reason to be doing whatever it is that I'm doing.
 

K12

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"DOOM has a better narrative than The Last of Us" should be put on Yahtzee's gravestone after he gets murdered by a mob of angry Sony fanboys.
 

Kenjitsuka

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So, what you're saying then, is that we should all buy DOOOOOOOOM, since it sets such a good benchmark for not hitting us over the head with crap we don't care about? Done!
 

Saetha

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Ehhhhh.. I agree that strings of cutscenes are not the best way to take advantage of games and story-telling, but DS method of shoving everything into item descriptions and NPC dialogue isn't fantastic either. You can't really have a truly impactful moment that way.

Cliche as it probably is at this point, I feel like Undertale is one of the best examples of video game storytelling. It does a great job of delivering information on the plot and characters via that gameplay itself, rather than treating story like the favored son or the red-headed stepchild.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Yahtz continues to try way too hard to discredit The Last of Us, a game he mostly criticized for an ending of dubious interpretation.
 

Thanatos2k

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Saetha said:
Ehhhhh.. I agree that strings of cutscenes are not the best way to take advantage of games and story-telling, but DS method of shoving everything into item descriptions and NPC dialogue isn't fantastic either. You can't really have a truly impactful moment that way.

Cliche as it probably is at this point, I feel like Undertale is one of the best examples of video game storytelling. It does a great job of delivering information on the plot and characters via that gameplay itself, rather than treating story like the favored son or the red-headed stepchild.
Honestly, Dark Souls has a terrible story. Now, what Dark Souls has is excellent atmosphere, and worldbuilding. Great world. Interesting world. Story of the game that you actually experience? Crap. Vague nonsense with barely anything explained, often intentionally so. And every single game in the Souls series has the same thing - nonsensical vague terrible story, great atmosphere and world.

You need only look at the arguing over which Dark Souls 3 ending is the "good" one to see that no one has any idea what happened, it's all guessing because the game doesn't explain a damn thing. Sure you get a rabid community of people spitting theories back and forth but From really just had no idea what they were doing and threw in various fire terminologies and the overanalyzers are SURE there's secret meaning there when there's just nothing.

In every Dark Souls game, you link the fire by killing a bunch of strong bosses to get their souls, and this does something, because otherwise something maybe bad would happen. Or you don't link the fire! And then maybe something good happens. Who knows, the game won't say. That's literally the story in each game.
 

beleester

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I think the "choose your own adventure" version of storytelling has its merits, even if it is a totally different form of storytelling than DOOOOOM. Especially in stories that integrate the choice into gameplay, like Deus Ex's pacifist/murderous split.
 

Igor-Rowan

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I was wondering why Yahtzee decided in last year's 'worst of' list to put The Order 1886 above Alone in the Dark Illumination, since pretty much everone else did the opposite, but now I see it's because Illumination had an [terrible] idea and executed it (very poorly), while The Order 1886 had... nothing, it spent way too much time trying to stabilish this universe and did almost nothing with it, no interesting gameplay or a plot worth remembering (yet everybody gave it a pass because it looked pretty).

Well, I think that it'll take a long time for this industry to re-learn what subtle means and until then we're stuck with these games that are play -> stop for cutscene -> resume playing, hopefully the success of Overwatch, Dark Souls III and Doom (2016) will speed up the process.
 

kimiyoribaka

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I seem to be in minority on this opinion, but I think the idea that the player has an inherent investment of any kind in a game is one of the notions that is plaguing the art of games. I have seen so many games that don't give me a reason to care but still try to spout off paragraphs of nonsense or hand me a brick wall of difficulty. Some games even try to do both. In the worst cases I'll even find myself boredly beating what I can only assume someone on the dev team thought was hard because it was intentionally frustrating. Frankly, if the game can't show me that the level design or the writing is competent before my third death or before the thirty min. mark, I don't feel like continuing. And killing off some fictional nobody's family or dog doesn't help.
 

Phoenixmgs_v1legacy

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I never commented on a Yahtzee article but...

How the fuck is READING the story more attune with an interactive medium than a cutscene (that actually can have some interactivity)? I guess books are more like video games than movies.

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I'm not much a fan of a game telling its story via gameplay because you are focusing on said gameplay and usually trying to not die. Even in Bioshock, I would completely stop playing to listen to each audio diary with full attention. That makes it so games then can't really have much depth to their stories if it's solely being delivered through gameplay because the player is not going to have full attention on said story. And if the story does have depth and is scattered about in little nuggets in item descriptions and whatnot then I could just go read a book with a much better story where I can't miss anything important.

And, nothing is worse than games that let you move around during conversations because it's really not gameplay if all you're doing is walking and looking around. You know what's way better than that is when a conversation is framed properly to get full emotional impact of the scene. What if your character or the NPC does something subtle like winking or shedding a tear that totally makes that scene work? How are you supposed to do that when the player is searching through a drawer for ammo they are already maxed out on?

Lastly, the main thing video games need is better fucking writing. The writing quality in the medium is absolute shit right now.
 

CaitSeith

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Phoenixmgs said:
How the fuck is READING the story more attune with an interactive medium than a cutscene?
Easy. In cutscenes the player just needs to sit down and watch (they are passive), while reading requires effort (an action). By definition, the interactive medium are not passive; cutscenes are passive, but reading isn't. In conclusion: reading is closer to interactive medium than cutscenes.

Now seriously. Telling the story through gameplay isn't the same as reading notes of exposition or hearing a conversation at mid-battle.
 

Fox12

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Does this mean that Silent Hill 2 is bad now, Yahtzee?

Maybe there's not a clear right or wrong way to handle things. Maybe it's all just about execution.