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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
"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 (one year ago) link
Speaking as someone who has a borderline obsessive love of narrative media, I honestly think story might be dead last in the list of things I'm looking for from a videogame. Which may just be because I haven't really encountered a videogame narrative that I've found particularly compelling. I do appreciate worldbuilding, though, as mentioned by Tracye re: Elder Scrolls. I appreciate that people put so much work into that world and that I can dig deeper if I so choose but that the story is largely my own to create (eg that time when I realized long after the fact that I'd actually finished the main campaign in Skyrim because I was more focused on all of the other side stuff I was doing).
― I Don't Have Any Ears, I Am Positive (Old Lunch), Monday, 17 September 2018 14:00 (one year ago) link
Wow I only just saw this thread and there are some massive walls of posts, but to address the original question and to echo the little bits and pieces of the posts I've skimmed, there's definitely a distinct difference between games that pull you into their world, allow you to explore & tell you a story at key moments vs. games that basically are more like faux-choose your own adventure blockbusters where you are moving hot chicks and/or guys with stubble and/or brooding children through various set pieces. I like the former. Nintendo excels at creating this immersive experience where you live in that reality and are rewarded for revealing more of it.
― Evan, Monday, 17 September 2018 14:20 (one year ago) link
xpost yeah, i buy all that. i have many fond memories of videogame worlds/atmospheres/milieus, and even of certain characters and events, but there are very very few 'stories' i'd look back on or cite as meaningful or explanatory or symbolically potent to me. but maybe i'm judging by the wrong standard: the games with the best "stories" might actually be the ones where you forget the story shortly after it's over, as in a game of civilization say, where there's certainly a vague narrative in my mind when i'm playing, our civilization came from X and we overcame the terrible greek threat shortly after the invention of gunpowder, etc., and that lends the game a lot of its weight and fun factor, without being something i would retell or even remember a week later. here again i think there is an important distinction between games having "story" and games having "a story," where the latter is usually what's getting evaluated if a magazine has a "story" line its rating system.
― got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 14:22 (one year ago) link
Not to draw too much attention again to my dorkiest ambitious project, but converting The Legend of Zelda to a 3D experience (and expand on the story) without changing anything about the original layout was a perfect exercise for building a more immersive framework without relying on cinematic tricks. Having those guardrails forces a more creative workaround.
― Evan, Monday, 17 September 2018 14:31 (one year ago) link
dang, it's wonderful waking up to pile of excellent posts, ty
― Karl Malone, Monday, 17 September 2018 14:50 (one year ago) link
I like dlh's post a lot but I am distracted by trying to think of what style guide requires ALL CAPS for TITLES OF VIDEOGAMES but leaves chess in lowercase.
― Paleo Weltschmerz (El Tomboto), Monday, 17 September 2018 15:37 (one year ago) link
I wreck noobs in CHESS
― Evan, Monday, 17 September 2018 15:45 (one year ago) link
forgot to mention the charming kaleidoscopic narrative of TIDDLYWINKS
― difficult listening hour, Monday, 17 September 2018 15:46 (one year ago) link
The slow build to the final act twist in SMEAR THE QUEER was something to behold.
― faculty w1fe (silby), Monday, 17 September 2018 15:48 (one year ago) link
It seems silly at first, but I actually find the ALL CAPS TITLES a boon to readability in a long-ish post. Anyway, this thread is great. A lot of y'all have ably articulated thoughts that I have shared. I generally find that game narrative works better the less it interrupts gameplay itself--a scene that the player has agency in is always preferable to a cutscene, though I understand the problems that can pose for storytelling.
I don't like the trend of games trying to mimic film. It strikes me as kind of weird and sad and boring that so many people apparently just want games to be interactive movies, when the beauty and strength of games is in their game-ish-ness. For me at least, games are primarily interesting possibility generators. I could go to the mountain, or I could go to the desert. I could kill this zombie, or save my ammo. I could spend my time digging into the lore or world-building of this game, or I can spend my time playing fishing minigames. This doesn't mean that the ideal game is one where the player has the leeway to make every possible decision--that's another mistake. Rather, the space of possibilities, however limited, should feel fertile. Writing is much more game-like than reading (or watching) is.
― a film with a little more emotional balls (zchyrs), Monday, 17 September 2018 16:58 (one year ago) link
oooo great way of putting it.
― got the scuba tube blowin' like a snork (Doctor Casino), Monday, 17 September 2018 16:59 (one year ago) link
Going back to Skyrim, after having played the game for 8,547 hours using one character, I've since gone back into it with a handful of other characters and tried to approach it in different ways. Currently, I'm trying to play as someone who eschews violence as much as possible and just aspires to make a living as a farmer. Same game, same world, same general rules for how things work, but taking this new approach (vs. the untouchable berserker of my initial character) is altering my entire perspective of the game. Like, how do I reach this peaceable goal in a world where progression is often predicated on violence? Am I any less culpable if I sic a magical familiar on someone rather than bisecting them with a giant sword?
― I Don't Have Any Ears, I Am Positive (Old Lunch), Monday, 17 September 2018 17:12 (one year ago) link
It's boring to talk about Dark Souls now, but I just can't deal with most scripted game narratives anymore. The Souls games let you investigate the world if you want to (piecing things together from talking to NPCs, item descriptions, etc), and even then things are left vague enough for you to fill in the gaps in your imagination. Or you can ignore it entirely (to the point of walking away mid-conversation or killing any npc you run into).
Limbo & Inside work similarly, create a world that's mysterious and evocative and let the player develop an idea of what might be going on.
― change display name (Jordan), Monday, 17 September 2018 17:46 (one year ago) link
I am definitely in the minority here in that I prize a good narrative over other game aspects! I hate not knowing where to go, exploration is at best a tedious necessity, etc. -- I just want to feel the momentum of narrative progression.
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.
Being a TLOU apologist, I have to disagree! There's an interesting youtube that argues the importance of limiting player agency to underscore certain personality traits in the main character to ideally prompt the user to think about morality.
As for "Why cutscenes I'm basically watching a movie" -- the tension of a good setpiece is (can be?) more intense and protracted than what you can get in a film. A lot of levels in TLOU and also MGS games (I guess stealth games generally?) take a LONG time to get past, which would feel numbing and dull in a cinematic context. But when you're down to your last bit of health or ammo with enemies still hunting you, that's a feeling that you can't replicate with films.
― Nag Reddit (Leee), Monday, 17 September 2018 17:52 (one year ago) link
i also dislike the trend of games trying to mimic film though at the same time i love jrpgs, which have more or less the same linear narrative style, just without any cinematic aspirations.
i do much prefer games where story sequences are 'in-engine' rather than doing a hard cut to something with a higher level of detail or production value than what you're actually doing and seeing during gameplay - that's the only thing that really feels like a "violation" to me in the words of dlh. i forgot until it was mentioned here that half life 2 doesn't even have 'cutscenes' definitionally as it never cuts from gameplay, but thinking about it now, it's only a tiny minority of modern games that actually pull that off.
― ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 18:10 (one year ago) link
― ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 18:45 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
agree with tombot on this
― ciderpress, Monday, 17 September 2018 19:33 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
i don't know the financial facts but surely at some point the cost-benefit of doing AAA epics will collapse?
― faculty w1fe (silby), Monday, 17 September 2018 20:21 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
"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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
.. is it grinded?
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link
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 (one year ago) link