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#51 Edited by Veektarius (4826 posts) -

This question can only stem from groundless restrictions on what 'game storytelling' should be like. Because games are an active medium, some think all storytelling should integrate player activity.

It's sort of like saying that the need for narration makes movie storytelling bad, because narration is an audio storytelling device used in a visual medium. Sometimes, narration, and cutscenes too, are shortcuts. And I feel these shortcuts are usually built to overcome limitations in the gameplay rather than the storytelling. But it's not necessarily true. Take Goodfellas or Lord of the Rings for example - if you know how to use them, most storytelling tools can be effective.

#52 Edited by LackingSaint (1814 posts) -

Good post, brings up some interesting points!

As far as actually answering the question posed by the title; that's a really, really broad statement, not least because it's asking for an objective definition of a "well-told story". Is a well-told story one that is entertaining? One that makes you feel emotionally invested? One that presents complex themes, or presents its themes in a clear way? Simply a story that makes you think? And then you get into what seperates the Story from the Gameplay in a video-game; what is the "Story" in Fallout 3, or Minecraft, or S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? In all of those cases, the interesting story is not the plot that the game leads you to (in Minecraft's case, it's the worst thing about it), but the personal narrative you build over the course of the experience. Games like Kentucky Route Zero and The Walking Dead have built themselves around such ideas of melding the gameplay with the mechanics of the story. I don't know, there's just a lot to it, I don't think anyone here can really give a summary statement to that question.

I do think games need to take greater advantage of the inherent non-linearity of the medium to tell their stories. Books and Movies are basically required to have an first scene and a last scene, and every other scene is in a set order. Games don't need to do that; you could have games that start you at any random point in a story, and then change the way the story plays out based on where you choose to explore, ending it at a climax that makes sense for your specific playthrough. Maybe people are annoyed by games like Gone Home because they force you to experience the story in this rigid linear fashion, despite that being inherently against the idea of exploring your house for clues.

#53 Posted by Klei (1768 posts) -

I don't like cutscenes. But in-game cutscenes where I can see the clothes/costumes/gear of my character as I customized them? That, I like.

#54 Posted by MikkaQ (10288 posts) -

I like what you said about games not trying to live up to movies. I hope more devs realize that imitating movies is a stylistic choice and not a goal to necessarily strive for. I think not chasing after movies and just letting the medium be it's own thing will be a great sign of maturity in game development. The interactive medium has a lot of storytelling potential and throwing all of that into a cutscene is dull.

#55 Edited by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

@mikkaq said:

I like what you said about games not trying to live up to movies. I hope more devs realize that imitating movies is a stylistic choice and not a goal to necessarily strive for. I think not chasing after movies and just letting the medium be it's own thing will be a great sign of maturity in game development. The interactive medium has a lot of storytelling potential and throwing all of that into a cutscene is dull.

This is the shit I'm talking about. People equate "cutscene" with movie when a game can feel a helluva lot like a movie without using a lot of cutscenes. I'm pretty sure people realize this, but not consciously while they're saying it. Or something.

Good example: I'm playing Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories right now. (More accurately, I'm getting my ass kicked in Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories.) It has its fair share of cutscenes, but I don't recall consciously thinking "this feels like a movie". Jump on over to Dead Space, however, and it's the exact opposite. There aren't a lot of cutscenes in the game, but started it up, and my first thought was, "FUCKING MOVIE!"

#56 Edited by MikkaQ (10288 posts) -

@mikkaq said:

I like what you said about games not trying to live up to movies. I hope more devs realize that imitating movies is a stylistic choice and not a goal to necessarily strive for. I think not chasing after movies and just letting the medium be it's own thing will be a great sign of maturity in game development. The interactive medium has a lot of storytelling potential and throwing all of that into a cutscene is dull.

This is the shit I'm talking about. People equate "cutscene" with movie when a game can feel a helluva lot like a movie without using a lot of cutscenes. I'm pretty sure people realize this, but not consciously while they're saying it. Or something.

Good example: I'm playing Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories right now. (More accurately, I'm getting my ass kicked in Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories.) It has its fair share of cutscenes, but I don't recall consciously thinking "this feels like a movie". Jump on over to Dead Space, however, and it's the exact opposite. There aren't a lot of cutscenes in the game, but started it up, and my first thought was, "FUCKING MOVIE!"

Well it's not just that cutscenes feel like a movie (cinematic or whatever). Because the cinematic look or feel is totally fine, it's a style choice. It's the I think the problem is that games are using videos/movies/animation to tell a story when they could and should just tell them through the interactive element of the game. It's like I'm playing a game and having a good time then I have to wait for 10 minutes while a video plays and I don't get to interact with anything. I'd watch a video if I wanted that experience.

Games can tell a good story while remaining interactive, this has been proven so now I think it's a matter of developers getting used to the idea that the game itself can be a story telling medium and that cutscenes aren't using the medium to it's full potential.

#57 Posted by Encephalon (1262 posts) -

I think it's pretty clear that video games have several limitations that make traditional storytelling very difficult. The presence of cutscenes, though, isn't the smoking gun you seem to think it is.

#58 Edited by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

@mikkaq said:

It's like I'm playing a game and having a good time then I have to wait for 10 minutes while a video plays and I don't get to interact with anything. I'd watch a video if I wanted that experience.

That's assuming that the cutscene is completely separate from the rest of the experience. Doesn't that inform everything else about it? Besides, aren't there a lot of instances where you can't really interact with the story? Like, how would something like this work? I don't play as Fuuka in that scene, and even if I did, what would be communicated by interacting? Sometimes, you need to use a cutscene. I feel like saying, "Then write the story so you can interact with it" is a cheap cop-out, at least if we're going there.

now I think it's a matter of developers getting used to the idea that the game itself can be a story telling medium

Who says they don't already know that? This shit's been going on since Donkey Kong, so developers have known for a really long time.

cutscenes aren't using the medium to it's full potential.

Yea, they are. Remember BioShock? That one cutscene? You know the one.

#59 Posted by Pr1mus (3907 posts) -

I think The Last of Us is a terrible example given that easily more than half of the story exposition in the game happens through gameplay and exploration. Just watch all the cinematics from the gallery menu and you'll realise there are stretches of gameplay of an hour or two between some cinematics and that you're missing a ton when consuming the story this way.

Plenty of games get their story across without cutscenes. Dark Souls is one of the better example of this.

Besides games are the only medium that have the freedom to be everything. They can be linear or not, tell their story through cutscenes or through gameplay or exploration or all of those at once. Why limit what they can do? There is no point in being completely interactive at all time or tell their story only in a way that film, tv or books can't just to prove games are different. If the story being told is best served by a traditional cinematic then that's the way to go.

#60 Edited by MikkaQ (10288 posts) -

@video_game_king said:

@mikkaq said:

It's like I'm playing a game and having a good time then I have to wait for 10 minutes while a video plays and I don't get to interact with anything. I'd watch a video if I wanted that experience.

That's assuming that the cutscene is completely separate from the rest of the experience. Doesn't that inform everything else about it? Besides, aren't there a lot of instances where you can't really interact with the story? Like, how would something like this work? I don't play as Fuuka in that scene, and even if I did, what would be communicated by interacting? Sometimes, you need to use a cutscene. I feel like saying, "Then write the story so you can interact with it" is a cheap cop-out, at least if we're going there.

now I think it's a matter of developers getting used to the idea that the game itself can be a story telling medium

Who says they don't already know that? This shit's been going on since Donkey Kong, so developers have known for a really long time.

cutscenes aren't using the medium to it's full potential.

Yea, they are. Remember BioShock? That one cutscene? You know the one.

If in Bioshock you are referring to the cutscene at the end, I thought that shit was TERRIBLE. You had a whole game of great in-engine storytelling, environments that unfolded the story as much as the characters did and then the ending of the game is just some quick video playing Option A or B depending on how you played. Great game, great use of the interactive storytelling I speak of, but also a great example of how a poorly used cutscene can fuck that all up.

Like when I say interactive, I don't mean you can like break up any emotional moment with a randomly placed left hook or something. But Bioshock was a good example, you were still watching events unfold as the devs intended, it's just that you experienced that from the character's perspective and stayed in the game world. What I don't like is when the game literally stops, a bink video file plays and then you're dumped back in the game. For me that's just a cheap way to tell a story in games.

#61 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

@mikkaq:

The other one. A man chooses...

Like when I say interactive, I don't mean you can like break up any emotional moment with a randomly placed left hook or something. But Bioshock was a good example, you were still watching events unfold as the devs intended, it's just that you experienced that from the character's perspective and stayed in the game world.

And there's the source of our confusion. You do not mean interactive when you mean interactive. You appear to want consistency in presentation, if anything else, and a lot of games do that. In fact, not many games use pre-rendered or visually jarring cutscenes anymore. Or are you referring to any use of a cinematic, in-engine or not?

Again, I feel myself butting up against Japanese vs. American game design philosophies.

#62 Posted by gokaired (534 posts) -

Max Payne 2 has always had my favourite cutscenes being comic panels n'all, it suited the tone they where going for and for me visually stimulating.

#63 Edited by MikkaQ (10288 posts) -

@mikkaq:

The other one. A man chooses...

Like when I say interactive, I don't mean you can like break up any emotional moment with a randomly placed left hook or something. But Bioshock was a good example, you were still watching events unfold as the devs intended, it's just that you experienced that from the character's perspective and stayed in the game world.

And there's the source of our confusion. You do not mean interactive when you mean interactive. You appear to want consistency in presentation, if anything else, and a lot of games do that. In fact, not many games use pre-rendered or visually jarring cutscenes anymore. Or are you referring to any use of a cinematic, in-engine or not?

Again, I feel myself butting up against Japanese vs. American game design philosophies.

Well interactive in the sense that you could at least look around (I think you could run around him too, I forget). But yeah that's what I mean, doing things in engine. I think in-engine cutscenes kinda suck too, but they're better than nothing. I think the best games tend to have the story just unfold around the character and not just explain everything that happens in dialogue or a cutscene. Using the environment is a huge plus to me. I like the idea of coming across an interesting event or scene and just trying to figure it out for myself. Skyrim did that in a decent way, for example. A lot of the dungeons felt like really cool short stories that you were uncovering as you explore them. A lot of the dungeons also felt like someone spent 5 minutes throwing random shit around in them, but you can't win them all.

#64 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

@mikkaq said:

I think in-engine cutscenes kinda suck too, but they're better than nothing. I think the best games tend to have the story just unfold around the character and not just explain everything that happens in dialogue or a cutscene. Using the environment is a huge plus to me. I like the idea of coming across an interesting event or scene and just trying to figure it out for myself. Skyrim did that in a decent way, for example. A lot of the dungeons felt like really cool short stories that you were uncovering as you explore them. A lot of the dungeons also felt like someone spent 5 minutes throwing random shit around in them, but you can't win them all.

The irony here is that in wishing for video games to expand their story-telling scope, your plan would actually eliminate a huge deal of video game stories. There's more to games than freedom and exploring expansive worlds. Their ability to restrict and specify is just as important as their ability to....whatever the opposite is. You can restrict the mechanics in such a way that the player takes on a role they could not take on in any other medium. Should I cite Pandora's Tower for the umpteenth time?

#65 Posted by development (2318 posts) -

This isn't a case where designers "just don't get it." They think what you think. The reason stories aren't integrated directly into gameplay is a technical one: it's extremely, extremely difficult. Explain to me how you would like your ideal in-game story to play out and think about how hard it would be to implement those features into a game. By the time the systems were built and made to be bug-free (relatively speaking, that is), you'd have spent a year developing nothing more than a mechanism to tell a story, and publishers aren't buying that.

Elder Scrolls meets you halfway, and other games have similar variations, but let me assure you the reason they have't made better systems is not because they have't opened their minds to the possibility.

#66 Posted by xaLieNxGrEyx (2605 posts) -

Movies must be really bad at telling stories, they're like 2 hour cutscenes.

#67 Posted by Halomaste19 (140 posts) -

@xalienxgreyx: No, I just think its weird that the best way to tell a story in an interactive medium is usally through non interactive cutscenes. Movies are fantastic at telling stories, which might be why so many games use cutscenes to tell a narrative.

That send I don't see cutscenes as bad. I just was thinking about them, and how I would love to see more games like Half Life and Gone Home which don't use them to tell a story.

#68 Edited by Halomaste19 (140 posts) -

@video_game_king: Personally, in my opinion I think games are barely scratching the surface when it comes to telling stories. Now Im not implying that games need to be huge and open filled with freedom. I simply mean that many games are telling stories using cutscenes between gameplay to move the narrative forward. And that is fine, in fact I have enjoyed many a game that uses this way of story telling.

But I really REALLY want to see more games tap into what only games can do. Sure that can mean offer you choices and freedom. But it can also be as you have stated to restrict what you can do, or watch how you play and change elements of the game. Games are unique to movies or film in that they don't have to be linear. A movie has to start and has to end, with predetermined scenes in the middle. A game doesn't need to do that. Some games will follow that way of stroytelling, thats fine. I love the diversity gaming gives us.

But I want more games that challenge that way of story telling or shake it up, or maybe leave behind all together. Im not asking or wanting every game to do this. Im just looking for more to do so. Thats all.

I feel that this whole conversation is getting a bit derailed because people are using words like "cinematic" and "freedom" to express there feeling (And for some frustration) that games just aren't living up to their full potential as a stroytelling medium. You might disagree with that statement, but thats how I feel.

Also thanks for reading and discussing this. I honestly love the Giant Bomb community.

#69 Edited by xaLieNxGrEyx (2605 posts) -

@xalienxgreyx: No, I just think its weird that the best way to tell a story in an interactive medium is usally through non interactive cutscenes. Movies are fantastic at telling stories, which might be why so many games use cutscenes to tell a narrative.

That send I don't see cutscenes as bad. I just was thinking about them, and how I would love to see more games like Half Life and Gone Home which don't use them to tell a story.

Nothing has done it better than Silent Hill 2