storytelling, plots, and narratives + videogames

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

there might be a thread on this already, but i couldn't find one (<--- this is the equivalent of "hey guys" at the beginning of a vlog)

i didn't want to ruin the Last of Us thread with this so i thought i'd do it here instead. i have a hard time enjoying videogame stories, especially modern games that feature increasingly realistic cutscenes with decent voice actors telling emotional stories. i'm trying to figure out why that is. i'm talking about games like Last of Us, but also Mass Effect, God of War, Uncharted, etc. A lot of them are action adventure games where the player runs around killing things and solving a puzzle or two for about 15 minutes before triggering a cut scene that advances the story.

So that's kind of a specific thing to open this thread with, but it would be cool if people also used this to talk about older games, different kinds of stories, what works and doesn't and why, new games, you name it.

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 16:46 (two months ago) Permalink

Josh in Chicago posted this in the Last of Us thread but i thought it would be useful to put here too:

They've made a point of emphasizing that story is an important context for the apparent ultra violence of the sequel. Likewise, as discussed elsewhere, there is apparently more emotional payoff to Uncharted 4 if you've played the previous games. Most games and esp. game series have mere scenarios or setups for action, or boast pretty elliptical/confusing/optional narratives. But as graphics get better and better and more and more "realistic," and games intersect and overlap with the qualities of feature films - and as feature films become more and more like video games - I assume there will be a gradual but still ever greater emphasis on story.

Has there been a high profile (or low profile) collaboration with a game developer and A+ author or screenwriter yet?

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 16:50 (two months ago) Permalink

Video games work fine with no story, but when they have stories it’s better for them to be environmentally and mechanically storyful rather than cinematic.

I want to babble about this more later, but basically video games trying to tell stories in a cinematic way tend to make the game itself not as good, and certainly don’t usually compare well to any story-driven film.

faculty w1fe (silby), Saturday, 15 September 2018 16:52 (two months ago) Permalink

Like the reason video games have graphics is to provide metaphors communicating why the correct game action at a given moment is to press the given button, and to engage our brains in the illusion of motion and in anticipatory tension. And to make creative play possible by allowing multiple solutions without having to illustrate each one specifically.

Basically Tetris + Dance Dance Revolution = Mario.

faculty w1fe (silby), Saturday, 15 September 2018 16:57 (two months ago) Permalink

i've barely played any contemporary "big" games so what do i know, but on instinct i kinda have no curiosity about these big, supposedly brilliant epic narrative games because it's like... i could watch a movie in 90 minutes and probably get the same narrative experience and not drip-fed in such micro-bursts that it loses all focus. but what do i know? i still like games to have a "story" but what a "story means as you're playing it might be a very different thing. there must be tons and tons of literature on this, all the "ludic narrative" stuff and so on. i'm an amateur. i think chasing what novels and feature films do is probably a bad idea. i could imagine that other models of fiction might work better - the short story maybe. or the semi-improvised campfire tale (early ancestor of tabletop RPGs) or the semi-improvised and endlessly serializable "ongoing adventure" of scheharezade or of paul bunyan. but that's a model for a very different type of game than a AAA epic, which must have an ending and therefore "a" story rather than just "story."

it occurs to me that back in the 80s and 90s when i wanted games with more "story," some of that was standing in for, i want to identify with the character and feel like i'm in the world, feel a sense of drama and tension. i gravitated towards games where the "oh shit" tension and "aha!" payoffs of the challenges and puzzles sort of mapped onto things that the characters would be going through and experiencing, and i called that "story" because the games that had it also tended to have more characters, more dialogue, more revealing-of-the-world-as-you-go-along. as discussed way back on one of the adventure game or Sierra threads, back then a few new pixels appearing when a door opens or you move a rock could be a huge thing in terms of gameplay and breaking through a "stuck" point, and if that coincided with new information about the world, a revelations about the character, a change in your protagonist's status quo, even better. cut scenes started to increase this sense of BIG payoffs circa 1988-1990: Wing Commander, Ninja Gaiden, console RPGs. you knew you'd accomplished something when you got a little narrative "scene." the novelty of these carried a lot of them but some of the above still applies. but they were a relatively small percentage of gameplay time, in relatively short games, and the overall package was not really trying to develop a narrative and themes or provoke specific thoughts and reflections along the way, the way a novelist might.

high-profile collaborations, maybe got said in the other thread, but sure, goes back to Douglas Adams and Infocom. digital antiquarian just posted on this bonkers sounding early 90s CD-ROM project with William Gibson called "Agrippa." of course tons of fantasy and genre games have their licensed authors (Raymond E. Feist, Clancy, Anne McCaffrey) but maybe not "A+....

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:05 (two months ago) Permalink

the reason video games have graphics is to provide metaphors communicating why the correct game action at a given moment is to press the given button

haha, that's a really good way of putting it. yeah, basically games are a series of toilet bowls that you must flush yourself down, and for each one you need to feel like you chose to do it

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:06 (two months ago) Permalink

A side question is the value, or lack thereof, of cutscenes. Are they merely there to give you a little bit of eye candy? Would games that rely heavily on cutscenes, whether God of War or Resident Evil or whatever, work as well without?

Josh in Chicago, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:06 (two months ago) Permalink

maybe because video game stories and setups tend to veer towards things like b-movies and genre pictures (horror, fantasy, sci-fi, mystery etc) I'll tend to cut them a lot more slack than I would for something more serious (or pretentious, even).

there's a recent review of the new PS4 Spider-Man game at Ars Technica that chides the game heavily for having a cliched plot and obvious dramatic turns while praising it greatly for all of its technical and gameplay accomplishments. I can respect that opinion, but personally I loved the story as a great interpretation of a 50+ year old comic book character that's gone through countless iterations and media properties - didn't have a problem with the admittedly predictable/obvious things at all, and they were clever about a ton of things (setting this story eight years into Spider-Man's career, using newer characters from the last decade of Spidey comics, changing JJJ to a right-wing Infowars podcaster, and so on). the uncanny valley effect of the CGI facial animation (with excellent voice acting performances) was weird for sure - but overall i found the the story and character development effective, especially regarding the villains.

been paying these kinds of adventure, RPG and narrative-driven games since the '80s so I'm mostly enthralled with the continuously improving visual quality - of course though that doesn't mean it will be well told. Breath of the Wild did an amazing job narratively despite having a very small percentage of playtime devoted to voiced cutscenes, through many various techniques (a long, vaguely alluded to history drawn by past and present architecture, topography, folklore told by the living, artifacts, geography, etc.)

The Last of Us honestly does even more going on than just really good motion capture and voice acting - the art and depth of the world they created is very lush and a joy to explore, even in the tense, horrific environment of the story being told. it's hard to explain this though without actually spending the many hour immersed in the playground/diorama/stage set the developers created, but it does contribute to the story for sure.

all this said, of course many of these factors could change for you - how effective a given game does this can vary wildly, not to mention player gaming style (rush through to objectives, dig deep for side quests and lore, or what have you)

Nhex, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:09 (two months ago) Permalink

cut scenes started to increase this sense of BIG payoffs circa 1988-1990: Wing Commander, Ninja Gaiden, console RPGs. you knew you'd accomplished something when you got a little narrative "scene." the novelty of these carried a lot of them but some of the above still applies. but they were a relatively small percentage of gameplay time, in relatively short games, and the overall package was not really trying to develop a narrative and themes or provoke specific thoughts and reflections along the way, the way a novelist might.

yes! i was going to mention ninja gaiden as well, which had a story that i still think is effective today. part of it is because it doesn't take up much time, as you mentioned. you spend the vast majority of the time in ninja gaiden getting knocked off ledges by those goddamn birds. but the other reason that the cut scenes work is because there's no guarantee you'll ever see them. it's an accomplishment to even get to them (especially near the end), and they feel like a reward for mastering a level. that feeling has been largely eliminated in modern games (AAA in particular) that increasingly guarantee that the player will progress.

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:16 (two months ago) Permalink

JiC makes me think of the silent movie edit of Attack of the Clones - purge all expository dialogue since it's pretty obvious what's going on. i like cut scenes as rare rewards/goodies as discussed above but the well-known phenomenon of people wanting to just click past dialogue that intrudes on gameplay every five seconds should be a reminder to developers that players like it when their game is full of game, not movie. obviously this is worse in games where they're trying to fold tons and tons of tutorial content into dialogue ("Ribbit! Would you like me to show you again how to use Target-Climbing? Ribbit!") and less in games where dialogue and story are a huge part of your own actions and decision-making, like keeping notes on keywords to ask townsfolk about so you can unravel the big mystery or something. but that's different from a cut-scene i guess.

haha yeah it's funny how all praise of games like spider-man is that it really feels like you're spider-man doing classic, generic spider-man stuff.... but heaven forfend the story feel like a classic, generic spider-man story. what, are great writers supposed to give their most powerful, culturally resonant, provocative and original concepts to what amounts to a functional, hopefully charming and comfortable armature to let me swing around on webs and punch bad guys?

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:17 (two months ago) Permalink

glad you guys mentioned Ninja Gaiden, the first two are among my favorite games ever and certainly relevant here. maybe that's where this whole "cutscene = reward" hamster wheel started for me, even prior to Sierra/Lucasarts

Nhex, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:25 (two months ago) Permalink

sidebar, but i'm loving this AotC silent movie edit! it makes me sad that it only has 234 views.

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:28 (two months ago) Permalink

also it occurs to me that in terms of development costs for a AAA title, "story" has to actually be one of the cheapest features to add or develop (right?). and if you're marketing a $50-60 game it needs to be X hours long or people feel ripped off, and if you're grinding for X hours in this storyless world by yourself you start to wonder wtf you're doing with your life. so a lot of "story" could basically be an easy add-on to disguise monotony and give you other things to occupy your mind while you're driving a jeep back over to the Ruined Space Station to complete the latest self-similar mission. a slightly distinct thing from the "short reward cutscene" model from back when games were hard and memory was scarce. those added novelty and drama and helped a game stick in your imagination, but it wasn't like without them the game would have felt pointless.

obviously this isn't really what people have in mind when the champion games as a powerful narrative art form where you identify with the protagonists in a new way and all that kind of thing. but i think it may be in play for a lot of the same games that get that kind of attention, because they're just so massive. put another way, even if there is a massive, intentionally structured narrative arc that's supposed to unfold, with big twists intended to reinforce important thematic intentions of the author, and play mechanics perfectly bonded to the emotional journey they're hoping to guide you unconsciously along... even if a 60 hour game has all that, a lot of the story is going to be scheherazade stalling for time. long games are picaresque meanders; they have tons of levels or missions that could actually be yanked out without affecting the story. that's fine actually. calvin and hobbes storylines have strips you could yank out without affecting the story, but the strips are funny and charming and well-drawn... in fact the strips are why you're there reading this thing even if bill watterson does have a bigger point he's making with the narrative as a whole. but there is probably some golden proportion of picaresque "episodes" to overall "story" for maximum satisfaction, and it would be kind of unlikely for that to, by coincidence, be the ratio that a studio needs for their big mega-game to work as a financial and good-review proposition.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:34 (two months ago) Permalink

KM - yeah. well, it's unlisted, probably to avoid copyright stuff from lucasfilm. something somebody made in response to comments on the "blank check" podcast back when it was an all-star-wars podcast.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:36 (two months ago) Permalink

i didn't want to ruin the Last of Us thread with this so i thought i'd do it here instead.
That's ok you ruined it the other way. 😅

Nag Reddit (Leee), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:41 (two months ago) Permalink

some other things i was thinking about with this thread:

- videogames are unique in that the player has agency. maybe it's just the illusion of agency, in most cases. but if you want to spend the first 10 minutes of mario odyssey bouncing on a frog tongue, it's an option (i would never). but that sense of agency places constraints on the narrative, because it means that i must win at the end. i can struggle and die a million times, but in the end, i will almost surely save the day. i know that doesn't apply to every single game, and also that plenty of films and literature end with the protagonist saving the day. but it seems to apply to video games to a more extreme degree.

- i feel like AAA games are converging with an episode of 24. as in, maybe when 24 gets rebooted for the millionth time in 20 years, it won't be as a show, but as a game that you play, and you won't really be able to tell the difference. i don't know where i'm going with that, but it feels right

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:41 (two months ago) Permalink

Leeeee i'm sorrrrry 😬

i mean, the Last of Us is a critically acclaimed masterpiece, i don't think it can or should be ruined. it seems like a game that does it's thing about as well as it can possibly be done. i guess i just worry about its influence, because in the vast majority of cases it's not done so well.

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:45 (two months ago) Permalink

its

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:45 (two months ago) Permalink

but that sense of agency places constraints on the narrative, because it means that i must win at the end.

and not only will i win, but almost surely i will kill many creatures along the way. which is fine, but it cuts against the emotional payoff when i constantly have to imagine that i just killed 34 dudes again.

Karl Malone, Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:48 (two months ago) Permalink

well, you might have also just moved a lot of blocks around to make a path for water to go through, or whatever, but yeah.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:55 (two months ago) Permalink

i think it was an Errant Signal video, linked ages ago on the "stuff worth reading" thread, that made the case that video games gravitated towards violence because 'violent' acts were basically ones that clicked well with the kind of 'action' that early games were capable of pulling off. like you could clearly tell you'd achieved something if you shot a pixel bullet and the enemy square disappeared off the screen, that kind of thing. i might be mangling the argument and it now sounds really culturally detached for me, as if all other forms of pop entertainment weren't saturated with violence. but it was interesting to think about. there are lots of ways long episodic 'stories' could be filled out that aren't violent, but even games that don't ultimately seem like they need killing 34 dudes, still have at least some part where you kill 34 dudes.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:57 (two months ago) Permalink

it's this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSBn77_h_6Q

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Saturday, 15 September 2018 17:57 (two months ago) Permalink

I like you Karl so even though you insulted my baby we are good!

Anyway, a writer from Westworld is cowriting TLOU, don't know if that works for Josh's question. Also David Bowie had a game in the '90s or '00s.

But since TLOU is my favorite game and entirely responsible for bringing me back into gaming, I will note that no game has approached the quality of storytelling except for maybe Uncharted 4. I don't think it changed the overall direction of story driven AAA games, in other words, which I guess were already long headed towards more filmic narrative modes.

Another thing is that a lot of the AAA stories are garbage (they're nonsensical or incoherent or convoluted or all of these) or simplistic (escort a plucky teenaged girl through zombie ravaged America).

The garbage stories result from developers simply not being good storytellers, to these huge games being developed by hundreds of people and the attendant difficulties of maintaining narrative coherence not to mention a distinct voice, to the erroneous boner gamers have for branching narratives which compound all these challenges even more.

Simple narratives (I think the term of art is linear) are easier to develop, and can allow for more attention on character development and dialogue. Maybe there's something also to be said about how traditional narratives don't require input from its audience, much less audiences who have varying skills at pressing buttons, and maybe that's what the cutscenes do, i.e. they deliver story in an uninterrupted way that the player can't screw up. Said Westworld writer has mentioned how different writing for games is from writing TV, not just because her story gets gated by game progression, but also because she has to take into account fail states and players not doing what writers want.

Nag Reddit (Leee), Saturday, 15 September 2018 18:36 (two months ago) Permalink

Yeah, the contrary force is for ‘meaningful choice’ on the player’s part.

I don’t know how much input Bowie had on Omikron - the writer with the most visibility in video games is probably Tony Hawk Tom Clancy.

Andrew Farrell, Sunday, 16 September 2018 12:45 (two months ago) Permalink

Peter Gabriel had a Myst-like game, too.

It seems that most games with stories sort of drop you in the middle of them, and while the destination remains the same the way you get there might differ, at least slightly. Or there are movie adaptation games, like Indiana Jones or Harry Potter or Marvel, where you are almost literally put in the movie and made to reenact various scenes and battles that follow the narrative of the movie. But I'm trying to think of some games where the conclusion (or story) can be radically different depending on what choices you make, sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure but more complex. There have been at least a few games where choices you make definitely affect game play within the context of the story. I'm thinking Eternal Darkness, where the weaker you get the "crazier" you get, and the game's very mechanical operation and glitches and whatnot work against you. That turn based dungeon crawler Darkest Dungeon does stuff like this a little, right? I don't know if there's much story there. What about Fallout, which I've never played? There is some element of making different decisions in that game, right? That determines outcome?

Josh in Chicago, Sunday, 16 September 2018 13:02 (two months ago) Permalink

I think a lot of “gamers” like the illusion of branching narratives and agency over the outcome, but most games that do this have like, what, three endings, with essentially cosmetic differences, and one of them is always the “real” ending. So guess what, you still played a linear game with a bunch of cutscenes. The climax probably consisted of a battle with the big bad.

The interest in compelling, memorable and twisty stories is also a trend that comes and goes, I think. Does anyone find the various narratives of the Dragon Quest series particularly memorable? I highly doubt it. Does almost everyone fondly remember the hours and hours they spent playing them? Yes.

Paleo Weltschmerz (El Tomboto), Sunday, 16 September 2018 17:50 (two months ago) Permalink

Narratives in games basically have to be about discovery, survival and conquest, or dogged detective work, because there can only really be one satisfying set of choices for you, the protagonist, to make.

Games where the prime movers are NPCs, like some MMORPGs, can do interesting things like have the queen of the horde go off her shit and kill the world tree or whatever, but this is mostly window dressing.

Paleo Weltschmerz (El Tomboto), Sunday, 16 September 2018 17:59 (two months ago) Permalink

I think the Witcher II had an instance where a decision in Act I meant you got one of two completely different Act IIs. The reviews were mostly 'Huh'.

Adventure games can get around this via a wealth of non-essential 'colour' - you can speed-run your way through Grim Fandango fairly quickly, but stopping to talk to everyone paints in the details.

I don't know that anyone's explicitly mentioned it, but the other end of the spectrum are roguelikes, where you can get a unique story, but very little of it is provided by the game creators.

Andrew Farrell, Sunday, 16 September 2018 20:45 (two months ago) Permalink

the other end of the spectrum are roguelikes, where you can get a unique story, but very little of it is provided by the game creator

yeah, i keep thinking of something along those lines, which is the conceptual idea of a gameworld that is so complex and elaborately modeled that the player could pretty much do anything they wanted to and the environment and other characters would react accordingly. by itself that would just be a simulation, albeit an incredibly lifelike one. what would make it a game would be imposing a set of rules upon it.

the name of this concept is...the matrix 4: third life, presented by baudrilliard

Karl Malone, Sunday, 16 September 2018 21:01 (two months ago) Permalink

procedurally generated "narrative" is just asking the player to find different ways to solve a problem - see also open-world games where you have the option to do things in a slightly different order and with different tools - but the story is often the same. You can do tons of different stuff in a game like Rimworld or Dwarf Fortress, for example, but the arc is still "try and keep these idiots from dying for as long as possible" i.e. everything is Galaga.

Paleo Weltschmerz (El Tomboto), Sunday, 16 September 2018 21:14 (two months ago) Permalink

i don't do well with plot-given games, mostly because, well, the plots tend not to be very good, but also because even when the plot is good i can't bridge the gap between "playing" and "watching" very well (don't get me started on those fucking quick time events, damn you shenmue).

the thing i liked best about games was _exploring_. i love "walking simulators". i was always too stupid to solve most of the puzzles in zork, so i reached a point where i was just wandering around aimlessly. plus i think puzzles in most games are artificial and stupid. i don't want to take your stupid mensa entrance exam, thanks. if there's a plot, i'd like to see it done the way something like gone home is done - no real "puzzles" of any difficulty, you walk around and find stuff out. (also, that game has a good plot.)

milkshake duck george bernard shaw (rushomancy), Sunday, 16 September 2018 22:48 (two months ago) Permalink

boy i sure used the word "stupid" a lot in that last post.

milkshake duck george bernard shaw (rushomancy), Sunday, 16 September 2018 22:50 (two months ago) Permalink

oh and by the way my pick for "attack of the clones" edits is a fake super-8 fan edit cut down to two reels, it's utterly absurd and trashy and a lot of fun to watch.

milkshake duck george bernard shaw (rushomancy), Sunday, 16 September 2018 22:51 (two months ago) Permalink

I'm not a fan of mostly-on-rails storyline quests tbh (eg Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Horizon Zero Dawn). I mean they do them well, and I admire the acting and writing that goes into those things but I dunno, I might as well watch a movie?

(that said, the last cutscene in the most recent Uncharted was gorgeous and I was all I WANT TO GO THERE about that beach house... damn.)

I want to be in a world, not observe it. Elder Scrolls has massive back stories and dishes them up in the form of NPCs andbooks all over the place and you dont even *have* to know it all but can if you want, and I much rather that. Ditto BOTW, though the "storyline" in that is delivered a bit limply thanks to poor voice acting!

Stoop Crone (Trayce), Monday, 17 September 2018 01:57 (two months ago) Permalink

yeah, the voice acting for Zelda (the character) was incredibly bad. investigative reporting will reveal that they compiled a list of ten thousand possible voice actors, ranked them by ability, and then accidentally sorted in reverse order before selecting the final candidate. holy shit, literally i could do better than that, while running and ironing at the same time, somehow.

Karl Malone, Monday, 17 September 2018 02:11 (two months ago) Permalink

nintendo sometimes likes to dip into some pool of unknown british VAs instead of the normal anime dub circuit (see also xenoblade games)

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 02:17 (two months ago) Permalink

well it makes sense for xenoblade because that was originally dubbed for the british market! the breath of the wild dub was really bad and i button-mashed to skip those terrible cut-scenes as soon as possible. at least it graciously let me do that. games that don't let you skip the cut scenes are terrible.

milkshake duck george bernard shaw (rushomancy), Monday, 17 September 2018 02:59 (two months ago) Permalink

BotW vo was fine

faculty w1fe (silby), Monday, 17 September 2018 03:06 (two months ago) Permalink

silby you know i've always got your back, except i don't on this one, sorry. actually i thought all of the voiceovers in BotW were fine...except for Zelda

Karl Malone, Monday, 17 September 2018 03:14 (two months ago) Permalink

Zelda’s character in BotW was interesting enough that her vo (which I feel was more badly directed than bad) didn’t really cause me any great anguish. Ergo it was fine.

faculty w1fe (silby), Monday, 17 September 2018 03:17 (two months ago) Permalink

Anyway BotW is a great (perhaps the best available?) example of storyfulness in an action RPG. The story of the gameplay is…whatever you do in pursuit of your primary goal, with various random characters and sidequests having their own small stories you get to be part of. The cinematic story in BotW is the backstory, a fait accompli you can do nothing to alter, and it’s more moving in its way imo by working that way. You don’t play to “advance the plot”, as far as story goes you play to (1) enact the story of your adventure (you know this plot as a foregone conclusion of playing a Zelda game. This is fine.) and (2) encounter/at times contribute to other people’s stories. Even though link is in a sense the most important person on earth during BotW, plenty of people don’t know that, and are just trying to flirt with you, or find their chickens, or look at some flowers.

faculty w1fe (silby), Monday, 17 September 2018 03:24 (two months ago) Permalink

agreed, silby

Nhex, Monday, 17 September 2018 04:09 (two months ago) Permalink

TBF yeah the actual back story in botw was quite moving I thought, but... as the 10 year old in the house said after watching all the memory cutscenes in a row "geez... I'd just let ganon kill Zelda, she's a bit whiney".

Stoop Crone (Trayce), Monday, 17 September 2018 04:44 (two months ago) Permalink

Games that don't let you skip the cut scenes the second time you see them are terrible. The first time, eat your fucking greens, people worked hard to make that.

Andrew Farrell, Monday, 17 September 2018 06:40 (two months ago) Permalink

the thing i liked best about games was _exploring_.

I'm not a fan of mostly-on-rails storyline quests tbh (eg Uncharted, Tomb Raider, Horizon Zero Dawn). I mean they do them well, and I admire the acting and writing that goes into those things but I dunno, I might as well watch a movie?... I want to be in a world, not observe it.

the thing that repels me about cutscenes is that they are violations. including them immediately creates a schism: there are the parts of the game where you are playing a game and the parts of the game where you are watching a movie. it is a full medium switch. this is a extremely peculiar habit for the nonexperimental practitioners of an artform to get into. (obv there are plenty of postmodern effects you can produce via a melange like this, but this is usually not what video games are trying to do. kojima aside.) yet even when technical ways are found around the actual switch-- games following the HALF-LIFE model, where "cutscenes" are scripted in-engine events that do not interrupt player control but are placed diagetically beyond player agency (bulletproof glass, paralytic serum, powerful hypnosis etc.)-- the fundamental act of restraining the player from affecting the narrative is still corrosive to your sense of actual presence. modern "cinematic" AAA games (i have not played THE LAST OF US but found two UNCHARTEDs numbing and pointless) seal the narrative off from the player completely while simultaneously centering it to the point where it takes up most of the time you spend looking at the screen. imo this is degenerate: it makes the medium less like itself.

the craft of game writing ought to be the craft of intertwining a designed narrative ("the story") w a procedural one ("the gameplay") in a way that is interesting. the friction between inevitability and possibility should be made aesthetic. the easiest way to do this is to cheat by turning the player's very lack of agency into your story's subject, as in the first BIOSHOCK game-- to explain why the whole narrative is behind bulletproof glass. the harder way is to do the same thing with the player's limited agency-- to provide them w narrative choice, but choice restrained in a way that is dramatically convincing and thematically relevant. this is difficult, but it is to be eagerly pursued imo because the experience of being simultaneously free and unfree is of course the experience of life and history. the exploration trayce describes in elder scrolls games can be extended into the narrative field: you can explore the permutations of a story, feel out its boundaries, the same way you do a castle or continent. (ES games themselves don't really do this-- MORROWIND comes closest-- tho imo the matrix of potential political positions for your avatar in SKYRIM has somehow wound up underrated.)

many of the games that explore the freedom/constraint tension w any success have been CRPGs-- PLANESCAPE: TORMENT for instance is wholly about the player/avatar's restricted agency and what kind of identities it allows for them; it's a deliberate game-length "character generator". FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS is a sandbox for the creation of experiences that will give your character complicated motivation to behave ideologically in one way or another. both CRPG designers and gamers tend to imagine that allowing such character exploration requires intricately constructed choice-and-consequence systems-- narratives structured as flowcharts-- and while there have been limited successes of this kind (the story in THE WITCHER 2, mentioned upthread, is dense, political, and branchy) the problem with it is that the more responsive the narrative, the more conspicuous its ultimate unresponsiveness.

but there are other ways. [cut out a long graf praising DEUS EX.] in particular i think strategy games (including plotty roguelikes) are capable of unique and game-native approaches to narrative. obv in some basic sense any game of chess has "a story" (often an intense+gripping one!) but using such a story as the procedural half of a scripted-procedural hybrid can produce v interesting results: in ALPHA CENTAURI the generated drama of your struggle with the other leaders is wrapped around a terse hard-sf storyline any given playthru may or may not actually “finish”; peak tactical games like JAGGED ALLIANCE 2 use a vividly written set of characters to intensify the unwritten drama of who gets shot when. i am interested in the potential of these kinds of narrative erector sets, which lend themselves, imo, to engagement w history and politics.

difficult listening hour, Monday, 17 September 2018 10:11 (two months ago) Permalink

I've never experienced, or even sought, a sense of actual presence* - what sort of games would you be talking about there?

*or in the game

(if I was feeling a bit more impish: "Oh yeah no, I do hear some good stuff about VR these days")

Andrew Farrell, Monday, 17 September 2018 11:13 (two months ago) Permalink

I really thought the point of plot in a videogame was just to provide some explanation for whatever cool stuff the devs had created for me to walk and jump around and shoot or punch or squish while collecting other cool stuff that allows me to shoot or squish more cool stuff. bring on the nazi robot space dinosaurs and give me a rocket launcher. if I want to be a grown up I will read Russian novels.

thomasintrouble, Monday, 17 September 2018 11:42 (two months ago) Permalink

Games that don't let you skip the cut scenes the second time you see them are terrible. The first time, eat your fucking greens, people worked hard to make that.

― Andrew Farrell

there are children in africa who don't get to watch any cut scenes at all

milkshake duck george bernard shaw (rushomancy), Monday, 17 September 2018 13:35 (two months ago) Permalink

I really thought the point of plot in a videogame was just to provide some explanation for whatever cool stuff the devs had created for me to walk and jump around and shoot or punch or squish while collecting other cool stuff that allows me to shoot or squish more cool stuff. bring on the nazi robot space dinosaurs and give me a rocket launcher. if I want to be a grown up I will read Russian novels.

― thomasintrouble

nah man i'll be a grown-up, sure. "katamari damacy" has a surprisingly poignant plot that i can and do skip every time i just want to roll shit up.

games for me are based around the illusion of agency. it is ultimately an illusion because i'm just going around whacking buttons or keys, but a good game makes me feel like i can do something cool. that can be puzzle solving - i actually do like a lot of the physics puzzle shrines in breath of the wild - but anything after the first act that closes off the narrative without putting one in endgame isn't something i enjoy. so for instance i didn't enjoy the divine beasts as much and actually resorted to walkthroughs for two of them. i also don't like things that artificially slow down the game - the goron escort mission was fairly painful.

milkshake duck george bernard shaw (rushomancy), Monday, 17 September 2018 13:43 (two months ago) Permalink

"the _____ escort mission was fairly painful" - a truism since at least Goldeneye, surely

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 13:59 (two months ago) Permalink

https://i.imgur.com/HItUGWp.png

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 18:45 (two months ago) Permalink

It strikes me as kind of weird and sad and boring that so many people apparently just want games to be interactive movies

I think this is because gaming became more of an activity for general demographics and not just "gamers", so the best way to reach a broad demo is to give them a safer, successful blockbuster formula as a game.

Evan, Monday, 17 September 2018 19:20 (two months ago) Permalink

I disagree with that - dabblers and casuals tend to prefer games without big cinematic story arcs, in addition to not caring about E3 trailers

Paleo Weltschmerz (El Tomboto), Monday, 17 September 2018 19:27 (two months ago) Permalink

i don't necessarily want games to be interactive movies, but I am thrilled when they effectively use the visual language of cinema/animation/comic books

Nhex, Monday, 17 September 2018 19:30 (two months ago) Permalink

agree with tombot on this

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 19:33 (two months ago) Permalink

To clarify I'm saying they're making games to appeal to broader demos for the same reasons Marvel movies or The Walking Dead do. And when the writers are being more ambitious it'll be more like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones etc. Nintendo however still prioritizes gameplay innovation as their focus for ambition. Other AAA titles rely on the cinematic to drive excitement and the gameplay supplements that type of escape. It should be the other way around imo

Evan, Monday, 17 September 2018 19:37 (two months ago) Permalink

yeah, one of many ways the E3-watcher can't grok the changes in the landscape - candy crush and angry birds and 2048 are so, so, so huge. i don't know the financial facts but surely at some point the cost-benefit of doing AAA epics will collapse? i'm thinking of like, PC adventure games being the big, expensive, flagship titles in the late 80s/early 90s until suddenly they weren't. however i am also in a bubble of city-dwelling 30something bohemians, for whom the archetypal player of a "gamer's game" is like the obnoxious headset-wearing roommate on broad city, who nobody wants to be or even know. i imagine that teenagers and the dorm-room set are just as stoked as ever for the shooter/saga mega-titles.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 19:41 (two months ago) Permalink

I like the idea of more non-violent games, but have no interest in the ones that take out gameplay entirely in favor of story (wandering around talking to people, reading things, listening to records). And "gameplay" doesn't have to be action-oriented if there's some sort of engaging puzzle to solve.

change display name (Jordan), Monday, 17 September 2018 19:56 (two months ago) Permalink

there's plenty of good nonviolent genres - puzzle, simulation, sports, racing, but most of these don't attempt any grand narrative since they assume people are there for the gameplay

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:03 (two months ago) Permalink

I think the teenagers and dorm-room set just want to play fortnite. they are also stoked for the new super smash brothers.

if the 20somethings on Twitch are any representative sample, kids these days really aren't into big narratives at all, they prefer esports fodder, battle royales, mmorpgs and procedurally generated stuff.

Paleo Weltschmerz (El Tomboto), Monday, 17 September 2018 20:06 (two months ago) Permalink

hmmm, it would be interesting to explore "story" in more pick-up-and-play things like racing games. obviously most have a ghostly whisper of my version of "story" in a game of Civilization. "ahh, it's been quite a season for this driver...." but it's not one of the main reasons you're drawn to play again. there are things with more of a "campaign" feel, like upgrading your car with laser guns using the proceeds from the last race - is this "story"?

i'm sure there must even be racing games with cutscenes between levels although it sounds like a terrible idea. branching paths within levels are common - are there racers with branching paths through the game based on how you play? (as, say, starfox 64 does for the rail shooter?) is that more story-like? or do you have to have cutscenes and dialogue going with the branching paths, and conscious player choice of what path you're taking, for it to count?

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 20:16 (two months ago) Permalink

xp yep, god of war, uncharted, witcher etc are all Dad Games. it's not kids buying these in huge numbers

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:17 (two months ago) Permalink

i don't know the financial facts but surely at some point the cost-benefit of doing AAA epics will collapse?


Well as much as we may handwring about whether these things are even good, some of them sell very well (God of War ‘18 sold exceptionally well for a single player story-driven console exclusive, for example) and for at least some of the x million people who bought it, they wouldn’t just as soon spend $60 on a gacha game. Both markets exist.

faculty w1fe (silby), Monday, 17 September 2018 20:21 (two months ago) Permalink

I've been playing 2016 Doom on the Switch, and while it is barely plot driven, I find the occasional cut scene kind of rewarding, not least as a respite from all the action.

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:33 (two months ago) Permalink

I tried to play MARIO TENNIS: POWER TOUR (this is how we're doing this itt right?) for GBA on emulator recently and that thing is jammed with story. It takes forever to get to a tennis match. I just wanted to play tennis. It seems there was a handful of years after OCARINA OF TIME where story and handholding were the focus. But I think younger demographics were the target there. There's a post-Minecraft push now to take out story and at the very least imply lore instead as world building.

But for dads and bros etc. that distinctly cinematic AAA big budget realism action story game genre is still a popular thing and would be interesting to see fall out of style.

Evan, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:36 (two months ago) Permalink

xp AAA games still do fine, the thing that collapsed is mid-budget games that aren't made by small enough indie crews to sell at $20 instead of $50. Nintendo still operates on magic dust here while everyone else is running super thin margins or moved to service games and mobile games

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:39 (two months ago) Permalink

xp the game boy era Mario tennis and golf games are all presented as rpgs with stories like that, i really liked them! but i guess most people had your reaction since they stopped it

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:45 (two months ago) Permalink

I just wasn't expecting it at all! I'm sure it's great though. Came to mind reading DC's post about story applied to otherwise pick up and play game formats.

Evan, Monday, 17 September 2018 20:53 (two months ago) Permalink

"respite from the action" is something worth thinking about... how much things that in other media are primarily in service of "story" are here because the player really would be exhausted without them. i suppose you could compare to perfunctory plots in schlocky low-grade action films where the talky stuff is something like filler between the action. in games though these scenes can be both respite and reward. and maybe to fully feel like a reward they need to feel like they're "advancing the story."

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 20:58 (two months ago) Permalink

Well that's getting into narratology and the eternal tension between narrative (advancing the story, duh) and spectacle (pause/cessation of story advancement).

Nag Reddit (Leee), Monday, 17 September 2018 21:00 (two months ago) Permalink

like even just thinking about DOOM, i turn my mind back to the original DOOM and DOOM II which each had like what, three screens of text at certain key points making clear what's going on ("After fighting through miles of Hell, you've finally reached the...."). and god, I loved getting those screens. Sorta repeating myself re: Ninja Gaiden but their rarity, and the fact that you couldn't just view them at will, made them so special, and then having read them you retrospectively organized the level-beating you'd been doing anyway into some kind of larger narrative. I wonder if those games would be better or worse if you got one of those screens after every level. that might fit the "respite" model a bit better but I wonder if it would enlarge or enfeeble the imagined narrative I was bringing to the game.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 21:05 (two months ago) Permalink

Or something like Tekken, where the fighting is both its own goal and the means to unlock the amazing CGI nuggets of story about the characters and what happened afterwards.

I mean, the real elephant in the room here is possibly FFVII, which was a complex game centered largely around materia management iirc, but drew you onwards towards more emotional plot delivered through cutscenes (but only if you ground enough to beat the bosses).

Andrew Farrell, Monday, 17 September 2018 21:55 (two months ago) Permalink

.. is it grinded?

Andrew Farrell, Monday, 17 September 2018 21:55 (two months ago) Permalink

yeah - essentially the skeleton of FF6 i'd argue, but the way heightened dazzle/separateness/rarity of the cutscenes is probably relevant here.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 22:21 (two months ago) Permalink

of course - FF7 was definitely THE game for a whole generation that got people into cutscenes (though like you mentioned - FF6 was better on both gameplay and narrative!)

Nhex, Monday, 17 September 2018 22:37 (two months ago) Permalink

I've been playing through FF6 recently, and I'd strenuously disagree - though that's probably better in another thread.

Andrew Farrell, Monday, 17 September 2018 22:47 (two months ago) Permalink

i like the cast in 6 and the visuals have aged well because its 2d but the story is not as good as you might remember, it just was the first game to really pull the huge midgame jrpg twist so it's memorable for that

ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 23:28 (two months ago) Permalink

the big, not-in-engine cutscene always fits weirder in RPGs than in other games imho, because it's like, you're always talking to people, witnessing events, interfacing with the "plot" - what makes these five or six scenes so special? especially when there'd be one that felt like kind of an unimportant scene or just showing one awkwardly-rendered wordless car crash or something... you could really the seams both between the gameplay and scene, and between experience that's supposed to be there, and something some other team came and added later.

one thread-relevant thing FF6 has over 7, imho, is that even its most indulgent and, as far as the "story" goes, irrelevant cutscene (the opera) is continuous with the rest of the world and the way its npcs act and talk. it's also a really thin minigame which also counted for novelty back then. and yet fans loved iirc? i want to say it was a popular subject for idk fanfic and fan lauding back then. so people were invested in it, just in *parallel* to the way they were invested in the "story" of terra and the espers and magic/nature being exploited by a technological military state, and redemptions for a whole cast of broken or fallen characters.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 23:44 (two months ago) Permalink

I remember there being a TON of that in FFVII though, endless wrought scenes with \[...\] - there’s a flashback that you get the opportunity to save at the start AND end of - the CGI cutscenes that I recall were all “and now for something awesome”.

Andrew Farrell, Monday, 17 September 2018 23:54 (two months ago) Permalink

oh yeah i'm not saying in-engine "acting" went away, just that the addition of non-engine scenes was awesome at the time but kinda distracting and weird also.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 23:56 (two months ago) Permalink

FF7 really self-consciously mixed the chibi + "realistic" styles. since this happens in manga a lot I think they just rolled with it

Nhex, Monday, 17 September 2018 23:58 (two months ago) Permalink

actually i might have found the in-engine scenes more compelling, since they were actually drip-feeding the story through dialogue, while the cutscenes were all silent-movie stuff.

got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 23:59 (two months ago) Permalink

i understand ff 7-10 were influential and popular, but do we need to take them any more seriously, ludically, then we take the work of roberta williams? gaming as spectacle has always been around.

milkshake duck george bernard shaw (rushomancy), Tuesday, 18 September 2018 00:04 (two months ago) Permalink

Hah, I think Al Lowe might be a better touchstone.

Andrew Farrell, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 00:14 (two months ago) Permalink

I take Robert Williams very seriously! The Coles and Al Lowe too.
Also FF7 and onward probably reached like, millions more people around the world than all of Sierra Online's games. You can kinda painfully see their influence, for better or worse, in AAA and indie adventure games alike.

Nhex, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 05:30 (two months ago) Permalink

Roberta! pff

Nhex, Tuesday, 18 September 2018 05:31 (two months ago) Permalink

The Colonels Bequest is GOAT

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 07:25 (two months ago) Permalink

a friend of mine was at a game jam recently where the theme was ‘ludonarrative dissonance’ (he made a turn-based platformer)

i have been playing hyper light drifter and the wordlessnessness of it has just been the most massive relief to me

uncharted sucks last of us is ok i guess

shadow of the colossus is another interesting edge case

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 07:29 (two months ago) Permalink

i have so much to say on this but i should read the whole dang thread first! this shit is literally uhh my job

will say this tho -- line up the scenes in raiders of the lost ark and they align almost exactly with uncharted 2, the most lauded of the series. seriously it doesn't take a lot of work to beat-for-beat align them. (i did this for a research project). the only part that it misses is the denouement, because the game basically goes climax -> 2m cutscene -> credits

vote no on ilxit (Will M.), Wednesday, 19 September 2018 16:56 (two months ago) Permalink

you want an edge case? Killer7
(man i love that unholy mess of a game)

Nhex, Wednesday, 19 September 2018 17:43 (two months ago) Permalink

has storytelling in mainstream videogames ossified? have the bounds of the acceptable become, uh, delimited? i was at an indie gaming thing in busan and i was surprised that both keita takahashi and swery have games coming out which are like, way indie, way small budget. and those two made some of the biggest narrative successes of previous generations.

also like ... the amount of fucking talking in super mario odyssey (a not very good game)

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Friday, 21 September 2018 06:13 (two months ago) Permalink

didn't really finish a thought there: by 'biggest successes' i mean, that succeeded most interestingly in doing narrative in a way that was 'video game-y' and not just borrowing the conventions of the cinematic

the ghost of tom, choad (thomp), Friday, 21 September 2018 06:18 (two months ago) Permalink

in retrospect the fact that the most popular ps2 "launch title" was a dvd of the matrix really set the tone for what's followed

ciderpress, Friday, 21 September 2018 12:02 (two months ago) Permalink

xp those guys are making games on indie budgets because publisher support for mid budget games without service models has eroded significantly this decade

ciderpress, Friday, 21 September 2018 12:16 (two months ago) Permalink

consumer support too, all the deep sales of steam and ps4 games less than a year after release have created a market where people will only pay full price for the fanciest, shiniest, most hyped things, and narrative quality doesn't really factor in to that

ciderpress, Friday, 21 September 2018 12:25 (two months ago) Permalink

How about this: narrative is a way to get players to form emotional attachments to characters, both playable and not.

Nag Reddit (Leee), Friday, 21 September 2018 17:21 (two months ago) Permalink

yeah i'd buy that as a baseline position. connects up with what i was saying here:

when i wanted games with more "story," some of that was standing in for, i want to identify with the character and feel like i'm in the world, feel a sense of drama and tension. i gravitated towards games where the "oh shit" tension and "aha!" payoffs of the challenges and puzzles sort of mapped onto things that the characters would be going through and experiencing, and i called that "story" because the games that had it also tended to have more characters, more dialogue, more revealing-of-the-world-as-you-go-along. as discussed way back on one of the adventure game or Sierra threads, back then a few new pixels appearing when a door opens or you move a rock could be a huge thing in terms of gameplay and breaking through a "stuck" point, and if that coincided with new information about the world, a revelations about the character, a change in your protagonist's status quo, even better.

|Restore| |Restart| |Quit| (Doctor Casino), Friday, 21 September 2018 18:19 (two months ago) Permalink

im not sure it's one of the more effective ways in practice, many of the games that generate a lot of character fandom do that purely through character designs and bits of dialogue without an actual in-game narrative or story mode e.g. fighting games, mobas, overwatch, some mobile gacha games

ciderpress, Friday, 21 September 2018 18:25 (two months ago) Permalink

maybe gacha games aren't the best example since the most popular ones like fate grand order do have insane labyrinthine stories

ciderpress, Friday, 21 September 2018 18:44 (two months ago) Permalink

Playing through the Banner Saga now via the Switch port, this feels like an excellent example of ludonarrative integration. The story bits almost always involve the player directly, and the stakes of all player decisions feel very real & weighty. It is stressful and beautiful.

a film with a little more emotional balls (zchyrs), Wednesday, 26 September 2018 16:11 (two months ago) Permalink


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.