Posts tagged: Story

And Here Come the Aliens — Storytelling in Games

Why do games inevitably end with you shooting monsters, zombies or aliens, regardless of what the game was about from the beginning?

Game story design lacks some maturity, compared to other media. It seems to me that we’re too obsessed with the spectacular, or too afraid of not making a splash, that we violate one of the fundamental pieces of storytelling advice there is: keep the story believable.

The central concept in all great storytelling is the suspension of disbelief. We’re asking the viewer, reader or player to ignore all their preconceived notions about how a world works, and join you in your world for a bit. This can work as long as your story is compelling enough to keep them interested, and consistent enough that the world makes sense in the mind of the viewer, reader or player.

alienWhy, then, is it so common in games that start out with a fairly reasonable story, there inevitably seem to be aliens, zombies, super mutants, experimental super-soldiers or some similar monstrosity near the end? I’ve played through a fair number of games with this problem, and I’ve actually quit a fair number as well.

Some games have stories that aren’t exactly masterpieces, yet they still get smashed to pieces by this kind of move. One example of this would be Far Cry — not exactly known for it’s brilliant story, but I still lost my interest when the super-mutant-experiment-soldiers showed up.

Since actual good game stories are so few and far apart, story reviews tend to look favorably on anything that actually has a story.

Game story designers fall into this trap for several reasons. I think, first of all, that it’s a sign of a certain lack of maturity — we don’t take our stories seriously, don’t focus on them and thus we don’t think they can hold their own.

For me, the story adds so much to a game experience that it deserves to be treated better. Trust me, playing the single player campaign of something like Bad Company during development, before the story elements are in place, is but a pale shadow of the final product.

Our demands on gameplay and difficulty also makes this an easy trap to fall into. Adding more HP and weaponry to enemies only makes sense to a certain point, I guess, so in order to have an appropriately difficult grand finale, we throw in something supernatural. The funny thing about this is that many times, the same games have already shown themselves to not need this. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, for instance (which is an awesome game by the way) has both a story and difficulty measures good enough to stand on their own feet. It simply didn’t need monsters.

These thrown in monsters, mutants and aliens provide an opportunity to make something spectacular. However, the best moments I’ve had in gaming must be the ones that both made sense and were spectacular.

I hope game stories can move with time to the more mature, nuanced theme of telling a simple but powerful story in an interesting way that keeps me hooked. However, that requires us to respect the power of a story well told… among all our fancy graphics, powerful hardware and surround sound systems, we get to face the idea that perhaps the most important piece of the game shares more qualities with a good camp-fire story than with the tech labs that produced the chip we’re running.

What do you think about the state of stories in games? How would you like to see them improve?

Image credit: kevindooley on flickr

No More Rants

Steve Yeggie has decided to end his blog, Stevey’s Blog Rants. I’ve been preparing a post about what blogs I read, and his rants was certainly on that list — it’s one of those few rare blogs that puts quality over quantity. One one side of the blog spectrum you have the churn-out-posts blogs like coding horror, who’s single advice to budding bloggers is to measure only quantity — he told himself he had to write six posts a week and then went about and did it, succeeded and thus everyone should do it.

In the age of information overload, I find myself less and less inclined to subscribe to blogs like that — too few of the posts are actually interesting. I’ve seen many people take Atwood’s advice and manage nothing else than to spam me with uninteresting posts with a few nuggets hidden in the constant stream.

I subscribe to a few blogs like that, but those would round up the bottom of the list. The best ones, however, are the ones like Stevey’s Blog Rants — they post anywhere between rarely and not-crazily-often, and they always post good content — whenever a new post shows up from some blogs, you know it’ll be worth reading.

It’s clear that Steve intends to go out with a bang, however. His latest post is part three in his series on “A Programmer’s View of the Universe”.  Long-time readers may recall one of my early posts was a reply to his second entry in that series.

The latest part, The Death of Richard Dawkins,  takes the shape of a Sci-Fi short story worthy of any master in the field of Sci-Fi, and I recommend it to anyone with as much as a slight interest in Sci-Fi.

I’ll be awaiting the last parts of the series eagerly, and mourning the death of a seriously good blog.

How It All Went Wrong

A man unexpectedly entered the office. Afterwards, no one could tell how he got there or how he left — he wasn’t supposed to be there, no one was supposed to get in without an appointment. The walls were lined with framed CDs and behind a large mahogany desk sat the label CEO in his luxury leather armchair. Surprised, he listened to the mysterious man begin,

Dear Mr. Record Label Executive, let me tell you something. You should listen to me, because I can tell you why it’s all wrong now. I can tell you how it all went wrong, when it went wrong and what effect it has on the world today. I am the messenger of the future.

Who are you?” said Mr. Record Label Executive, clearly not used to being in this position. “And how did you get into my office?

That is of no importance,” the man answered. “You can call me Lime, if you need something in the way of a name. What is important is my message. Your problem is that the youth refuse to buy your records. They download them, file share them, and refuse to pay. Correct?

Confused, Mr. Record Label Executive nodded.

People have been asking for paid download services for a decade, yet you were too afraid to let them have it — afraid they would just file share the downloaded music — so you gave them nothing.

Ah, but we created…“, Mr. R. L. E. started.

Nothing of sufficient quality“, the enigmatic Lime cut him off. “You gave them nothing that could match what they sought. So they kept downloading, they kept file sharing. For free, because that was the only available way.

It went on for a long time like this. Kids grew up, who’d never bought a CD in their life. They too started file sharing. For free, illegally.”

By now, the man in the luxury leather armchair was leaning forwards over his large mahogany desk, nodding.

Lime impatiently paced the room. “You see, there’s a new generation out there, who’s always downloaded music for free, because there were never any legal paid download services out there to download from. Don’t you see what you’ve created? A whole generation who’s never paid a dime for music, who has been taught that music is free, without value. You taught them.

Now wait a minute! How can they think they can just steal the music artists have put so much effort into?” Mr R L E protested.

They’re not stealing anything. You never gave them options, so they all learned that music was free. You taught a whole generation that music and other entertainment had no value. That is when it all went wrong!” He paused to look at the stricken man before continuing, “as you hunt them now for what they feel is natural and right, all they feel towards you is disgust, fear and anger for your greed. Imagine, all those millions of potential customers out there who are now lost to you because you didn’t take the chance of selling them what they wanted, out of the fear of what might happen if you did.

Now they’re a million very angry people instead, who want only to see your empire crumble.

Mr R. L. E stared at him aghast as the realization dawned. They looked at each others in silence for a while.

I see that you understand,” the mysterious man finally said and headed for the door. “Millions of angry people,” he repeated. As he closed it behind him, he added, “and now you’ve given them martyrs.

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