The Story

Extra Consideration

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Feb 28, 2011
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The Story

Yahtzee, Shamus and Graham sit down to share their thoughts about the proper place of story in videogames.

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Impluse_101

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We need more Consideration. *nod nod*
Maybe...Shamus, James, and Bob

OT: A game that had a great Story for me was Okami.
 

Exterminas

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Sep 22, 2009
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If anyone of you should wonder what a Plinkett Review is, as YZ mentioned it:
http://redlettermedia.com/plinkett/

Sure google is always an option but I would like to grasp the oportunity to further recommend them. Great in-depth-coverage of some movies.
 

jmarquiso

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We just started playing Okami last night. My wife and I kept thinking "TOO..MUCH...COPY..."

There was no reason to overcharacterize, especially with characters you will be with for a significant portion of the game (I assume).
 

Marik Bentusi

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So apparently everyone but Yahtzee had their hands full but on week 2 they finally had to deliver *something* so the series doesn't get killed before it started?

Works for me!

Actually, a bit of rotation might be good. I initially was fascinated by Extra Consideration before even reading it, for the simple fact that three big influential characters were supposed to discuss something together, but it might be good to exchange parts of the cast every now and then if a special topic comes up where they might not have much to say about. For example, was a good idea to bring guys from Unskippable into this.

Keep it up, Extra Consideration is one of the most interesting things for me to read on The Escapist!
 

rembrandtqeinstein

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One word (and some periods)

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Specifically SoC (the other 2 didn't quite recreate the magic of SoC even if they were more polished)

The gameplay WAS the story, the environment was the star. There were a couple of small cutscenes but none of them took away exploration and discovery and most importantly none of them pulled you out of the immersion.

The Controller attack that removed player control and zoomed in exploded, and left the player's view all woozy is pee your pants scary if you aren't expecting it.

I'm a huge Planescape Torment fan but I agree the gameplay isn't anything to write home about. The game engine was just a vehicle to explore the detailed world and the rewards/equipment were just placeholders reminding you of things you already did and places you visited.
 

Spacewolf

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sort of felt like reading synopsis of 4 different articles, more interaction between the colomnists would make it much more interesting
 

Susurrus

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Torment's story is undeniably excellent: I sympathise with Yahtzee's point about struggling to get into it - I certainly did too. In fact, it took me three times to get into it, and unless you play a mage it's incredibly hard (no armour means combat as a warrior is just brutal). It also requires an openness to what a game should be - and this one certainly blurs the line between book and game - but in a good way.
I'd urge anyone who struggled to get into it to give it another try.

The gameplay does certainly take a second seat to the story, that's something I can't deny. But if its the vehicle that delivers such a story - and one that has such impact - well, I'd celebrate.
 

GothmogII

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Apr 6, 2008
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At that, I wonder if the spectre of personal taste is hovering in the background? Given the choice between Torment and Half-Life 2 I'll go with Torment every time. But, this doesn't necessarily mean I think either is objectively better than the other.

I guess, it's not that I think Half-Life is worse, more that even if it is a better fusion of story and gameplay, it's not all that I'm personally looking for in a game. Be fair though I guess, call Planescape a piece of interactive fiction with gameplay elements and that's dandy for me.
 

Extra Consideration

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Did this week's Extra Consideration seem a bit short to anyone else? I mean, I like the weekly discussion and all, but I needs me at least three pages of important people talking about stuff I find important to really get into it.
 

Plinglebob

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Nov 11, 2008
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Graham Stark: Yahtzee, it's funny you mention Alpha Protocol, because it did another thing I liked when dealing with conversation trees, which is making your choices largely unimportant to the story. If they're giving you a time limit to answer, they'd pretty much have to, but you could make whatever choice you felt like, knowing that while you might miss out on something fun by picking the "wrong" option, you wouldn't ruin your whole experience.
This is why games will never really be what they could be as a medium for story telling. Everyone is still so focused on "Winning the Game" rather then enjoying the experience it has to offer. It reminds me a bit of when I used to play PnP RPGS in that there was always one or two (and I admit, sometimes it was me) who's aim was to "Beat the GM" rather then work with the GM to build a story. Games have the oppotunity to be a fantastic story telling medium, but the closest a game has ever really been to showing it in recent times are with Heavy Rain and The Witcher.

The first had branching, involved and mature story where even though there was a "Right" answer to it by getting everyone to the end alive and solving the mystery, failure at one point didn't kill the story completely. This shows the bredth that games could have (and often did have when graphics and voice wern't a problem). In Baldurs Gate you could kill important people without effecting the plot. This sort of story telling is gamings greatest strength. Its a glorified "Choose your own Adventure" which means whether you play it through just once or multiple times, you will still get a good game and a satisfying story.

The second handles the story in a different way by there not being any "Right" answer. You had no idea what the consequences would be of your actions because there was purposely no Good and Evil and chosing one option would close off one quest but open up another. This meant that as the player you made choices and moved the plot foward depending on what you thought was right rather then by trying to get the "Right Answer" and in games with branching stories like RPGs, this needs to be used more.

In linier games, I agree with whats said, but the reason its done is simple. The designers are scared people will miss something. If you let people do their own thing, there is a risk they are likely to miss important information because the player is focusing on something else (like playing with the teleporter in Kliners lab) In Yatzee's Bulletpoint review, he mentioned how you got points by looking at certain things when the developer wanted you to and because of this, he purposely didn't. This is why they take it out of the players hands and shove it in a cutscene instead (personally, I thought it was a nifty idea that should be used more).
 

Crimson_Dragoon

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Jul 29, 2009
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Glad to see Graham and Shamus getting involved in this, too.

I'm actually going to argue for the use of cutscenes. They are a good, cinematic way of telling a story. They especially work when they involve things that aren't possible with the regular game mechanics (this can be as simple as dialogue in a game that doesn't have a dialogue system - and no, not every game needs that sort of thing). I'm not going to argue that cutscenes are perfect, because they're not, or that they belong in every game, because they don't, but they do have their place and can be used well.
 

Crystalgate

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This is where games like the new Fallouts (which I otherwise love) and Mass Effect take me out of the game because I'm always worried about what I might be unknowingly screwing up by selecting one dialogue choice over another. Like yourself, gaming is my job as well as my hobby, and I don't have time for unlimited playthroughs of a game, so I want the one play I DO get to be good. But I find myself afraid to pick dialogue options as I please, and instead scrutinize a walkthrough for fear that if I choose poorly then NPC 1 will die later, or Quest-Line X will lock down... all because I said "Yes" to someone who seemed nice at the time.
This I partially disagree with. I think that sometimes you should have to make an actual choice, you get one or the other, but not both. This means that you will indeed need multiple playtroughs if you want to see everything, but you don't need to see everything at all.

However, I can see the point of not wanting to get locked out of content because you picked the wrong choice at a time it wasn't obvious the choice would have consequences. The game should let you know if what you're doing is an important choice.
 

bjj hero

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Story really is over rated in games. I feel it is hubris when game designers bore their players over and over with cut scenes. MGS and Final Fantasy come to mind, what pretentious wankery.

Story and game play that worked together? COD4. The different perspectives. You could easily have been Soap all through and seen the Americans get nuked in a cut scene. Cpt. Price could have explained with some still images he had tried to assassinate Z in a past mission. The end chase where you are handed the gun on the bridge was fantastic.

This was a great piece. I look forward to more.
 

Extra Consideration

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Text-dumps are the very worst thing for a game's story (im looking at you FF13! and always will be!) but cinematics can be good if used sparingly and properly, like they totally weren't in MGS4.

I think what Yhatzee is talking about is IMMERSION. This is distinct from "Story" in many peoples minds as it is more about how you relate to the game world. But relating to the game world should be how 90% of your story is told. "Show don't tell" is the mantra of the movie industry and "Play don't show" should be the mantra of the games industry. I think immersion is 1/2 the battle in game stories and something sorely neglected in most modern games. STALKER is often refered to as a bit 'story light' but the richness of the world allows players to experience the world on their own terms and, most admirably, create their own stories within the ruleset of the world.

a wise forum denizen once said to me in relation to th modern JRPG (a forget who it was) "Don't create 60 hours worth of tedious dungeons/ cutscenes, create a world that will support 60 hours worth of player driven narratives"

This is where the best games succeed. Why is the Sea level so low in HL2? Why are those roving bandits attacking those poor STALKERS? Why do the splicers whistle? Game world should be an intruiging place for the player and it's richness should unfold through play. A game, unlike the set narrative stlyes of TV and films, is the sum of a lot of parts.
 

constantcompile

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Yahtzee's rule of never making non-interactive what could be interactive needs a name, as does Shamus's formula for kill-watch-kill-watch. Anyone want to christen either idea with an official term?

The insight of Graham's inputs caught me by surprise. I agree completely with him that in sandbox games, the story either needs to be removed completely or tailor-made to futzing about. Saints Row II is actually a pretty poor example in my opinion (the story surprised me with its linearity after hearing Yahtzee rave about it), and after replaying Red Faction: Guerrilla, I think it was completely underrated in this regard - it really does seem very well-built for being as realistic or no as you'd like it to be, as open-ended or no as you need it to be.

I wish Graham elaborated more on why he feels Saints Row II is better than GTA, but I found his comment about "the good ol' days" (stories aren't any better, they just leave less room for the superior writing of our imaginations to fill in the gaps) to be priceless, as well as surprising in the sense that he's telling this to Shamus - didn't Shamus himself write an article providing examples of this being the case, at one point? I'm certain I've read an article arguing that idea on The Escapist before.
 

nipsen

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Sep 20, 2008
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:) great topic.

Graham:"This is where games like the new Fallouts (which I otherwise love) and Mass Effect take me out of the game because I'm always worried about what I might be unknowingly screwing up by selecting one dialogue choice over another."

hehe. See, that.. really is Alpha Protocol's... "greatest achievement". Technically, you have several times as many branches in this game compared to, say, Mass Effect. Within the story-segments, from the start to the finish of the mission, and between the locations depending on the path you picked, etc. But you don't notice that when you play through it.

Same as with Heavy Rain - it actually does branch fairly often. But you don't react to it because of the lack of "shopping list", or "job interview" presentation.

Instead the choices and branching is used to help smooth out the immersion breakers when the story moves in a direction you might not wish. Mass Effect 1 is a minimalistic version of that approach, where you roleplay your character's motivation instead of actually making any choices along the way.

(By the way - hobby-reviewers picked up on this *ahahahahehemmmemmm!!* while playing the game in their spare time. It's not that difficult when a playthrough barely lasts 8 hours, is it..)
 

Wolfenbarg

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Oct 18, 2010
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First of all, the thumbnail of Graham with his old FX1 is beyond words in levels of cool. Good on whoever drew that.

A note on Planescape: Torment. I think Yahtzee was both right and wrong on the game, though this was mostly the fault of the developers. The game has two polar opposites in terms of how you play it. There is combat, and there is dialogue. In many ways, Planescape is a dialogue based game, as you can easily avoid all but three battles by using your words. This form of weaving it into the narrative was a total triumph, but unfortunately it also had the dreary combat aspect. In that regard, Yahtzee is totally correct. Compared to other Infinity Engine games, the combat was pretty cold and unresponsive, making the game kind of a chore to play in the early sections. The curve for when the game gets you hooked is a bit too long even for my taste, and I think it's one of the greatest games ever made.

Storytelling is a very slippery slope. I think we can get incredibly involved in a story more than we ever could from a book with methods like Bioware has taken, but I agree that it isn't the best way to tell stories. While I always want the Bioware formula there for a story that is truly epic in scale, I'd prefer we come up with solutions like Alpha Protocol did for other games. If we do that, we can have pieces of dialogue that are organic to the scene and the actions of the characters. Yahtzee citing Plinkett's Revenge of the Sith review was a piece of genius in that regard. The language of cinema might be different from the language of gaming, but ultimately it's about telling a slice of the human condition, right? How much more could a developer tell us about a character or a world through a gameplay sequence as opposed to a cutscene?
 

Mouse One

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Without an eye to the integration of mechanics with story, choice is inherently damaging to narrative (or at best, just makes it hard to create). When a writer sits down to write a novel, he/she is going to come up with a bunch of possible story branches but in the end, only takes the strongest. Even after that, in the editing, large chunks of "not good enough" will get ripped out, and necessary bits filled in.

Contrast this with the plight of the poor game writer. Choice is good, right? But what if the player's choices are uninteresting or don't contribute to advancing the plot? Games by their very nature funnel choice-- I can't just tell Gordon Freeman to drop what he's doing and look for ice cream, for example. But even with limited choices, the writer is going to have to come up with intriguing development for each and every possible branch. Sure, you can dead end (perhaps literally) the ones which don't head in the direction the writer feels the story should go. But too much of that, and the player will rightfully feel as if there is no choice, and interactivity is destroyed.

I don't have an answer :) But it does seem to me that the columnists are right-- so far, writers have tried to apply the rules and techniques of other mediums such as novels and movies to games. There has to be a new path.
 

Iron Lightning

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Oct 19, 2009
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Graham Stark: Yahtzee, it's funny you mention Alpha Protocol, because it did another thing I liked when dealing with conversation trees, which is making your choices largely unimportant to the story. If they're giving you a time limit to answer, they'd pretty much have to, but you could make whatever choice you felt like, knowing that while you might miss out on something fun by picking the "wrong" option, you wouldn't ruin your whole experience.
I'm sorry but I completely disagree with you. The only point of having dialogue options is to allow the player to make significant choices that affect the story. If your choices don't matter than there is absolutely no point in having choices at all. I feel that the word "game" is a bit of a misnomer for some "games" (e.g. Silent Hill 2, The Void, and Heavy Rain) as a game is something which can be either won or lost. These "games" each have multiple endings determined by player choice; they're a bit like PnP RPGs in that the point is not to win but to craft a good story. Are the "bad" endings of Silent Hill 2 worsen the player's experience when compared to the "good" endings? I say that all endings are worthwhile in their own way.

Part of what's holding back gaming as an artistic medium is the concept that games need to be won. Citizen Kane wouldn't work as a videogame in the industry today because Kane did not win. A good deal of the fun of gaming is the idea of player agency; it's why Minecraft is so popular. The quality of the story is not dependent on the protagonist being positively affected.