Cool story, bro.

Video games and narrative, a story as old as… well sometime in the 1970’s. As video games have developed, the possibilities for simulation and imagination have increased exponentially. Gameplay has been refined, A.I. improved, Graphics skyrocketed, Voice acting honed (sometimes). But there is something missing here… oh… it’s a good story.

Spec ops the line

This medium has long been widely considered to be “mindless” or “wastes of time” by outsiders. And hey, some games probably do fall into this role. If games are ever to be considered art (and not just for their graphical representation), developers must learn the importance of a well crafted story.

Video games

Of course as many of you know, creating a good story isn’t something you can just pop out before breakfast. Add to that, that video games require a much different technique, due to their often non-linear progression, and need for the player to be involved directly in decision-making.

You wouldn’t hire a programmer and ask him to do your animation, or a level designer to handle audio systems; so why have any of them in charge of the story? Even when Developers do bring in a writer, they often do so late in the project, which just doesn’t work for reasons you all can imagine.

However, even with a good writer from the start, gamers don’t particularly like being dragged through a linear story. That’s not to say it isn’t done, its done constantly, and some can be very good. Call of Duty 4, (remember when CoD wasn’t the FPS version of Madden?) was actually a pretty solid story experience. Or Bioshock’s tale of hyper-objectivism. But many of us crave a more immersive experience. But there’s a problem with that…

Psychonauts

Every option you give the player has to be modeled, animated, programmed, or voice acted, costing money. Money for content a lot of people will never see. This is only acceptable in a game such as Fallout or Elder Scrolls, as they use modular level design in order to provide the massive scale of their world.

download (1)

Many fans have complained that the massive dialogue trees of Elder Scrolls Morrowind have been simplified again and again. And in Bethesda’s defense, typing out a large dialogue tree is much cheaper than paying someone for voice work. But it also takes away some of the depth in their Mythopoeia.

Speaking of dialogue, I think its time we move away from the old tree format. Or at the very least, give that tree some fertilizer. Get your writer(s) involved, and bring your characters to life. Often when you talk to a npc in a game, its obvious that a programmer did the dialogue tree. I have nothing against programmers, but they tend to have a certain mode of thinking, and it doesn’t lend itself well to characterization and organic dialogue.

fallout

Being able to effect their disposition with what you say (or how you say it) would be nice too, and not in the horrendous Oblivion way. Keep it behind the scenes. Perhaps when you are trying to coerce that guard to let you by, have a multitude of arguments to use, but you have to figure out from his demeanor, personality, and lot in life what will work on him.(Again, where a writer comes in handy, as they can sensibly imagine these things even for an unimportant npc rather easily)

Oblivion

But enough with the suggestions, there is still the point that some people feel story isn’t important in games, including gamers. “I want to play the game, not watch it”, and when it comes to games like Final Fantasy or any cut scene heavy game, this can be a valid argument.

ffx

But exposition doesn’t have to be limited to cut scenes or dialogue. Look at Shadow of the Colossus, nary a word is spoken, and it tells a truly epic tale with you at the heart. Or Flower, which uses a slow progression of symbolism to depict humanities intrusion into nature, without any combat or characters at all.

Sotc

So what do you think? Should Developers strive to make richer stories? How should they go about doing this? And what are some games whose stories struck you?

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