Something more theoretical. Finally I found a topic I can write something about.
When browsing forums I often see people who ask how to write a story for a video-game. Well the answer is pretty easy: “Just start damn writing!”
But interactive storytelling just starts out with a story. There are so many ways a game can deliver a story to the consumer movies and books can only dream about.
Some games have already scratched what is possible to do with our medium. The industry is just too focused on hollywood with all their shiny movies to realize what they could do if they put some effort into a real interactive story. Many games nowadays play like interactive movies. Yeah FPS-games I’m looking at you here.
Shoot stuff, cutscene and repeat *yawn*.
Hell games can do much more than that. Again it was an indie game that made me really think about this: Bastion.
The game itself is nothing special. But the artstyle and the way the story of it’s world is told to the player are solely there to enhance the experience the player has.
Most of this probably comes from the narrator. The voice actor is not just good he is brilliant. And it’s not some crappy cutscene where his talent can be seen, no it’s throughout the whole game. He basically just explains what the player does. You fall to your death and he just says “And then kid fell to his death… just kidding.” in his smoky and wise sounding voice. It reminded me of the old Prince of Persia games.
But that is not all. You change weapons and he comments it. You block with your shield he comments it. You kill an enemy perfectly and he comments on it. You could go as far as to call the narrator one of the game’s core mechanics. It draws the player deeper into this world. It conveys the feeling of listening to an old guy telling the tale of you, a young hero who saved the world, while reliving all the events.
But is that all games can do to draw a gamer deeper into the story?
No, not by a long shot. Storytelling is even possible through leveldesign. Some levels just tell their own stories without any voiceacting at all. Sometimes you just see what happened. Or you find a memo of someone who once lived there. Portal did this very good. Throughout the levels you would find some secret room with messages written on the walls. You would find computers with memos. Even tough GLADOS was the only one ever talking to you, you knew far more than she would tell you. Bioshock did something similar with the memos and wallpaintings.
But it’s possible to go even further. Levels can cover the complete background history of a game through text without making the player listen to a cutscene he might want to skip. The game The Neverhood already did this a long time ago(1996). In the game actually nobody spoke. All you could find were notes on what to do next. But eventually you would find a long passageway filled with the complete history of the world. Text and pictures would tell you what nobody else did. The Neverhood of course was about being alone. And I’m not sure how many players actually read through that whole history section. But it was there to find for the player. If he wants to read it he can. If he doesn’t want, he’s not forced to.
But even modern games could use this. Imagine some of those copy-pasted (but high-res) wall textures to convey some of the games background story to you. Imagine an inscription on a grave somewhere in Skyrim that points you to a hidden treasure somewhere on the map without updating your questlog. The reward a finding like this holds for the player is so huge you could not make it up with a thousand pre-rendered cutscenes.
This is not about implementing secrets. Well technically… it is, but from a psychologists point of view it’s something completely different.
Games like Skyrim use the players curiosity to keep him engaged. It’s basically a core mechanic to keep him curious. He would only appreciate it if there was even more he could find out. Hints, treasures, even parts of small stories. Everything can do for this. And it’s not much work compared to a cutscene. Of course many players are never going to see this stuff. But there will be enough of them. Somebody will find out and post this on the web/forum/wiki. And maybe other players will come back to see some more of the game to find those hints and stories that were hidden throughout the world.
And what is better than adding additional depth to your game?
And then there is the holy grail of interactive storytelling. At least for me it is.
Storytelling through mechanics.
This sounds somewhat strange but think about it. What could be more immersive than to really feel the story while you play it. When talking about this I often hear the name Heavy Rain. I haven’t played the game but I basically watched through it. It is a good start, but by far not what I am trying to make you think about here.
Mechanically Heavy Rain is just a compilation of minigames that have worth because of the story they take place in. I want it the other way around. Imagine a story that’s worth playing through because it reacts to everything you do. Imagine a mechanic that allows the player to actually change the course of the game. I can’t start to grasp how much work would be involved with a project like this on AAA-scale but the ideal is something I think worthy of straving for. Creating a mechanic that makes the player feel the story. And not a story that makes him forget the mechanic. This is somewhat closely tied to the interactive sound stuff I wrote about last year. But probably much more complex again.
Decisions in games, espacially RPGs, are not really statisfying because they are often not tied to the mechanics. The same goes for the events that take place in the story. I know I’m digging up old stuff, but why the hell was I not able to drop a Pheonix Feather on Aeris? Why do I have to be the hero who saves the world in every goddamn RPG that’s made nowadays? Those games feature decisions? No I can’t just kill off every annoying good guy and go to a damn bar to drown myself with whyskey!
And again Indie games have already started to make mechanics tell a story.
Minecraft and Terraria are basically doing what I said up there. They let the player play their own story. Now of course I know those games just have no story at all.
But is that really true? You can tell your friend about your adventures in those games without problem. So didn’t you write your own story using the mechanics the game provided you with?
Telling people about your detour to some hidden dungeon in Skyrim is much more exciting than talking about the main quest, isn’t it?
So to sum it all up:
Games have just started to scratch what actually can be achived with storytelling. And the triple A titles are once again not the nes where we will actually see the big shiny new mindblowing stuff.
I’ve said this often, but games are still young. There is so much more to discover about them and the channels they can use to touch people it’s unimaginable. When thinking about this I’m getting excited for the furture.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope you got the idea and are thinking about it right now.(source:vaizards-game-design-blog)