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Old 06-19-2009, 04:51 AM   #1
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Storytelling in games

most games these days have an extensive story, and they all seem to be relying the same methods to tell them. gameplay here, cutscene there, repeat. obviously there are some very big exceptions, but this is undoubtedly the norm.

i can't help but feel this method is a misuse of our beloved medium. in another thread, op89x and i got to talking about the storytelling in Super Metroid and how it conveyed very important information to the player through its gameplay - not cutscenes or text screens.

but this is obviously just one opinion. what do you think? there are as many ways to tell a story as there are stories, which do you prefer in the gaming medium? which ways left the biggest impression on you?




to get things started i'll list some recent games who's storytelling really impressed me. these games told their stories without constant breaks in narrative and usually in an immersive, player-driven way:


Portal - as per the Valve usual, no cutscenes whatsoever, and the viewpoint is never moved from first person. the game does a great job unearthing the secrets of Aperture Science through exploration, enviornment design, and a very cleverly placed "narrator" character.

World of Goo - this game did in fact have cutscenes and full screens of text, but both were few and far between and neither hindered gameplay in any way. what impressed me here was the way the levels changed with the story. one such plot twist even results in the very basis of the gameplay being changed for the next several levels.

Shadow of the Colossus - not as recent as the other two, but easily the most impressive of them all. a simple premise really, but executed incredibly well in some very creative ways. the player character undergoes some physical changes over the course of the game, but the game never points these right out. it is a gradual change that happens over the entire course of the game, and when you finally notice the effect that your actions have been having on the hero, it is a profound moment. a lot of the plot details are intentionally obscure and left to interpretation, especially the ending, but these details can always, always be inferred from things that actually take place during player input. there is a moment during climax where the game unexpectedly allows you control, and it's one of the most brilliant pieces of gaming i've ever experienced.

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Old 06-19-2009, 05:19 PM   #2
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You're very right to have Portal on your list, or any Valve game, for that matter. Playing through the original Half-Life, or Half-Life 2, shows you just how good the storytelling is. Seeing the Combine mistreat humans, overhearing conversations, listening to the announcements made on giant screens, these things are all part of the game's environment, and when the story is told through the world being explored, it is that much more meaningful.

I'll go out on a limb and make an unusual suggestion: let's look at Twilight Princess. Sure, it's the same old formula we've seen since Link to the Past. Even the light and dark worlds is something we've seen far too often in games from Nintendo. Also in Twilight Princess, the main villain is the same, Zelda still needs to be saved, we're still exploring Hyrule, and many of the items and enemies have been recycled. So what makes Link's journey epic, after we've already essentially played through it several times over?

It's the small details. In the very beginning, we see Link already has a strong, personal connection to people in his small village, even a possibly romantic one. When the children are kidnapped, that's what sends Link off on his quest, and this is great because we have Link sort of falling into the main story, instead of embarking on it right away. I remember when I found the children again, and they were about to be run over in the street, that was such an epic scene for me. I felt personally involved, and that's a rare detail in a Zelda game these days. Link's quest, even though it was pretty much the same as it has been traditionally, was given more weight because it was told in a way that gave Link a personal investment in the story. Leaving Ordon behind couldn't have meant more.
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:31 PM   #3
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good points with Twilight Princess. let's not forget Midna and her own story. she's by far the most compelling character in any Zelda game to date for me. the mystery that surrounds her throughout the game, even up until the end when you finally see her true form; it was quite moving and even made you want to keep playing in a way.


i'm glad you brought up the Half-Life games, there's something id like to point out.

a criticism i hear often of those games is that they are so, so linear. so what? i don't understand the current trend that linearity is evil game design. all these open world, sandboxy type games with moral choices? their stories suffer for it. Valve gives a very tailored, very scripted, but very compelling experience. giving Gordon a choice would ruin that.
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:49 PM   #4
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I was going to mention Midna, but I didn't want my post to turn into a huge wall of text that no one would read. I like Midna because she gives you an insight into what Zelda must feel, as a princess who has also lost her people to evil. There's more to be said, but I think we summed her up nicely enough.

As far as linearity goes, it depends on the game. A linear Metroid is undesirable, because part of what makes the series so great is the idea that you're all alone, in a huge, open world, and you must explore and backtrack. The Half-Life games aren't about exploration, however. You have a specific objective that you must complete. Even in Half-Life 2, you spend a lot of the time just running from the enemy. You don't want an open-world situation there.

Ultimately, you can have a linear game, a branching game (where you take different paths, but once chosen, you can't stray from) or an open-world game. I don't see anything wrong with either approach, but the style must suit the story. An open-world Bond game wouldn't work, for example, while a linear Fable II just isn't the same.
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Old 06-26-2009, 07:47 AM   #5
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bumpity bump
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Old 07-09-2009, 03:09 PM   #6
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BUMP AGAIN


something occured to me the other day while i was playing Ratchet and Clank. the cutscenes in that game are very well done and quite funny. often times the situation and staging are things that could not happen in gameplay.

so this brings up a few things. how else can humor really be told or expressed, and do i need to quit complaining so much about cutscenes?
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Old 08-23-2009, 09:32 PM   #7
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Must be bumped.

Come on, people. What do you think?
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Old 08-23-2009, 11:25 PM   #8
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Odin Sphere featured the traditional gameplay first, cutscenes later style of story telling and managed to make things interesting. The story was apparently good enough for gamers to want to play through the game just to find out what happens next. OS by itself is a very good action RPG mind you, but it's simple and beautiful presentation is what kept gamers intrigued.
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Old 08-25-2009, 12:33 PM   #9
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I think traditional storytelling is fine kinda, as long as the story is good all is well. I don't really like the basic stories in Mario games or whatever but the story doesn't really matter in those kinda games.

Metroid though, the story telling of MP3 was kinda weird to me, but in a good way. On each planet you'd scan stuff to get info on their history which was very interesting. You could find out the rise and fall of civilization in these places and how things were how they were. It was very interesting, same with Metroid Fusion also, you'd find info from computer logs and stuff. The Metroid series has a darker story usually with plenty of depth without much interaction since well, Samus is alone most of the time.

Knights in the Nightmare, an unpopular DS game from Atlus, also had an odd way of telling the story. Because every character you used was well, dead, they would usually show a sequence before the tragedy where the character(s) was alive and how they died kinda. The game's story is in bits and pieces because of this kinda, but its not to bad, just complicated. (the gameplay is more complicated though lol)

But unique storytelling is fine, but I don't care how its told if the story is ok.
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Old 08-25-2009, 07:03 PM   #10
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Knights in the Nightmare's story sounds interesting. I tried to get into it, but the battle system and the stylus requirement really put me off.
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