Posted by Kazona (3096 posts) -

We are frequently awe struck by amazing graphics, stellar gameplay or excellent audio. But that rarely--if ever--truly amazes us is the story. That's not to say that there has never been any good stories in games, but in all my time of playing, I have yet to come across anything that rocked my world. Coming from a guy who usually prefers to watch dumb action movies with little to no plot, that's saying a lot.

But, I am also a writer, and I know how hard it is to put together a well crafted story for a passive form of entertainment like a book, let alone an interactive form of media where you can never predict someone's reaction to the content you've created. And I think that is something we often overlook when we say that stories in games aren't of the same caliber as movies.

The intent of this series of blog posts, therefore, is to create some insight into the creation of a (good) story, and to find out if the whole interactive element really does add additional challenge to this process.

I have a dream idea!

Every story starts with an idea. Often this idea is so vague that it doesn't even have the detail to fill a single page in a book. So you need to build upon that idea, and flesh it out until you have something cohesive and detailed. But you can't just let your mind run wild, and throw in every little thing you come up with into your story. Well... you can if you want to create something like this:

Now, there are various ways in which to go about shaping this vague idea into something substantial. Some writers won't even begin penning their first chapter until they've created an complete outline. Others (like me), begin writing, and try to fill in the details as they go. And then there's the ones who build an entire world before they even start to think about anything resembling a proper plot.

Best movie ever! Oh wait, it's a game.

But what if you are a writer on a hundred man team for a triple A title? You sure as hell can't just lock yourself up in a room, and emerge when you have finally finished your masterpiece. We are talking millions of dollars here, and an adherence to a strict deadline. Sure, you can have a movie-like script ready to go before starting production, but a movie is something that people sit down and watch. It is not interactive, and you don't need to worry about striking the right balance between telling your story and not taking away control too much. I mean, if a player is going to spend more time watching cut scenes than they do actually playing the game, you might as well make a movie instead. (Kojima, I'm looking at you).

Which brings us to the next question. How much of your budget and time are you going to spend on the story? There might have been an increasing desire for substantial plots in games, but thus far, the act of playing the game still wins out over experiencing the story. And truth be told, with the rise of casual games, I fear that the story will be relegated to the backseat again.

Think about it. When you picked up Super Mario Galaxy II or the last Call of Duty, did you do so with the intent to experience the story? No, you bought it because you wanted to collect you some starz (yea, z instead of s, I went there) and shoot some people in the face. Having a deep, profound plot in the vein of Citizen Kane will only get in the way of you blowing shit up. So why should a developer pour an ungodly amount of resources into creating a story when, in truth, this is often the part of a game people overlook the most?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes part one of.... THROUGH A WRITER'S EYES! (Just imagine someone with a deep voice shouting that, with some amazing echo and reverb effects added).

#1 Posted by Kazona (3096 posts) -

We are frequently awe struck by amazing graphics, stellar gameplay or excellent audio. But that rarely--if ever--truly amazes us is the story. That's not to say that there has never been any good stories in games, but in all my time of playing, I have yet to come across anything that rocked my world. Coming from a guy who usually prefers to watch dumb action movies with little to no plot, that's saying a lot.

But, I am also a writer, and I know how hard it is to put together a well crafted story for a passive form of entertainment like a book, let alone an interactive form of media where you can never predict someone's reaction to the content you've created. And I think that is something we often overlook when we say that stories in games aren't of the same caliber as movies.

The intent of this series of blog posts, therefore, is to create some insight into the creation of a (good) story, and to find out if the whole interactive element really does add additional challenge to this process.

I have a dream idea!

Every story starts with an idea. Often this idea is so vague that it doesn't even have the detail to fill a single page in a book. So you need to build upon that idea, and flesh it out until you have something cohesive and detailed. But you can't just let your mind run wild, and throw in every little thing you come up with into your story. Well... you can if you want to create something like this:

Now, there are various ways in which to go about shaping this vague idea into something substantial. Some writers won't even begin penning their first chapter until they've created an complete outline. Others (like me), begin writing, and try to fill in the details as they go. And then there's the ones who build an entire world before they even start to think about anything resembling a proper plot.

Best movie ever! Oh wait, it's a game.

But what if you are a writer on a hundred man team for a triple A title? You sure as hell can't just lock yourself up in a room, and emerge when you have finally finished your masterpiece. We are talking millions of dollars here, and an adherence to a strict deadline. Sure, you can have a movie-like script ready to go before starting production, but a movie is something that people sit down and watch. It is not interactive, and you don't need to worry about striking the right balance between telling your story and not taking away control too much. I mean, if a player is going to spend more time watching cut scenes than they do actually playing the game, you might as well make a movie instead. (Kojima, I'm looking at you).

Which brings us to the next question. How much of your budget and time are you going to spend on the story? There might have been an increasing desire for substantial plots in games, but thus far, the act of playing the game still wins out over experiencing the story. And truth be told, with the rise of casual games, I fear that the story will be relegated to the backseat again.

Think about it. When you picked up Super Mario Galaxy II or the last Call of Duty, did you do so with the intent to experience the story? No, you bought it because you wanted to collect you some starz (yea, z instead of s, I went there) and shoot some people in the face. Having a deep, profound plot in the vein of Citizen Kane will only get in the way of you blowing shit up. So why should a developer pour an ungodly amount of resources into creating a story when, in truth, this is often the part of a game people overlook the most?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes part one of.... THROUGH A WRITER'S EYES! (Just imagine someone with a deep voice shouting that, with some amazing echo and reverb effects added).

#2 Posted by TaliciaDragonsong (8606 posts) -

Fun read, I'll be following you for this.

#3 Posted by Jay444111 (2441 posts) -

eh... to be quite honest, the movie industry is INCAPABLE of making good movies anymore. They used to about 20 years back but now they are only catering to themselves and their own pockets. Video games, hell, even ones like EDF2017 are more well written then a good 99% of movies made this year alone. hell, gears of war 3 even has a story that is better then a metric shitton of movies this year.

video games have replaced movies as a thoughtful artistic mainstream business. I used to respect the movie industry, I did, but... with movie makers like Uwe boll around every corner. I gotta be honest, I am thankful it actually takes talent to work in video games. One thing that the video game industry does far better is making sure you get rid of the shit game makers as quick as possible. Only the good survive. That one reason alone is what makes video games far greater then movies as well. competition makes for good things. Movies don't have that at all and have grown stagnant and outdated.

#4 Posted by Murdouken (709 posts) -

@Jay444111: I have to disagree with this. Just go to Screened and look through the reviews to see that the movie industry is still making good movies. It's just the super high budget, massively hollywood films that tend to be a bit bland, and those have been terrible since the movie industry began.

#5 Posted by Bruce (5264 posts) -

Me no thinky books are passive, but me thinky you do blog is good :)

Caveman dialect, son!

#6 Posted by LiquidSwords (2738 posts) -

@Jay444111 said:

eh... to be quite honest, the movie industry is INCAPABLE of making good movies anymore. They used to about 20 years back but now they are only catering to themselves and their own pockets. Video games, hell, even ones like EDF2017 are more well written then a good 99% of movies made this year alone. hell, gears of war 3 even has a story that is better then a metric shitton of movies this year.

video games have replaced movies as a thoughtful artistic mainstream business. I used to respect the movie industry, I did, but... with movie makers like Uwe boll around every corner. I gotta be honest, I am thankful it actually takes talent to work in video games. One thing that the video game industry does far better is making sure you get rid of the shit game makers as quick as possible. Only the good survive. That one reason alone is what makes video games far greater then movies as well. competition makes for good things. Movies don't have that at all and have grown stagnant and outdated.

You probably weren't even born 20 years ago. Once again you pop up and talk gibberish.

#7 Posted by Jay444111 (2441 posts) -

@Murdouken said:

@Jay444111: I have to disagree with this. Just go to Screened and look through the reviews to see that the movie industry is still making good movies. It's just the super high budget, massively hollywood films that tend to be a bit bland, and those have been terrible since the movie industry began.

Are these the same movies that are never released in theaters and only in indiefests which win oscars even though NO ONE has ever seen them? Yep, thought so. the movie industry is trying to hide the actual talent they have just so they can keep the crap pushing out. Don't believe me? watch the Real Steel trailer... it is rockemsockem robots in real life... how sad that such a industry is falling out of grace, I will enjoy seeing them crash for ruining so many great things that were meant to be great.

It ain't just hollywood doing this, it is the entire industry doing all of this. Hell, check out movies from other countries these days and you discover it just isn't a problem for hollywood alone. The entire industry is fed on the crap until it can only produce just that. More crap. Hell, even with the yearly COD games, they still have a better story in each of them compared to a crapton of movies.

#8 Edited by UnrealDP (1221 posts) -

@Jay444111:

Oh right, you're that jay guy that joins in on random discussions and tries to be contrarain to elicit an emotional response out of people for some unknown and awful reason.....Cool.....

Back on topic, nice blog duder! I'm loving this Blog Initiative and the fruits of its labor.

#9 Posted by Kazona (3096 posts) -

@Bruce: Me hulk! Me blog!

....Wait... what? o.O

@Jay444111: While I agree that a lot of the deep, provocative movies get buried under a pile of mindless action and poor comedy, I don't think it's fair to put the blame. It is, after all, the people who choose to go to such movies.

@UnrealDP: Thanks :) Hopefully I can get the next part done sometime soon.

#10 Posted by Little_Socrates (5711 posts) -

A good story will get me through mediocre gameplay. Looking at you, Deadly Premonition. Though, to be fair, eventually your story got great and your gameplay eventually made some sense. (GOTY 2011! WOOT WOOT.)

A great story will carry me through somewhat broken gameplay. Looking at you, Yakuza 4. (Though I haven't finished this yet, as I started playing Persona 4 during my playthrough, which has a great story AND great gameplay!)

Great gameplay and a terrible story? I will probably buy your game, but I will never finish it. Looking at you, SMG2, Killzone 3, Demons' Souls, and most Zelda titles.

#11 Posted by Fobwashed (2227 posts) -

Good stuff. I'm currently in the process of coming up with the story for my game and hopefully I'll be able to glean some ideas from your blogs =) I've been working out how things in the world will work and have the basic ground rules down. Now I just have to go about placing everything properly. Keep at it!

Online
#12 Posted by Kazona (3096 posts) -
@Fobwashed I'm glad you looked it. I hope the next part won't disappoint either.
#13 Posted by Noccee (57 posts) -

I´m intrigued, will follow so I can keep up with the coming parts :)

#14 Posted by Insectecutor (1205 posts) -

Most games have way too much writing and I think the best way to avoid embarrassment or accusations of "ludo-narrative dissonance" is to cut as much as you possibly can from your game and instead find ways to express your ideas that are better suited to the medium.

There are examples of games with great writing but they are few and far between.

#15 Edited by themartyr (691 posts) -

Is this where I weigh in with 'Silent Hill 2 has a story that will knock your socks off' ? Because I think I just did. :)

Link to my own article on Silent Hill 2.

Edit: formatting issues.

#16 Posted by Kazona (3096 posts) -

I would like to thank everyone for reading this.

Perhaps that sounds a bit too much like an academy award speech, but I honestly appreciate you all taking the time to read my gibberish. And even if I haven't @replied you, I have read your comment.

Part two will be up tonight or tomorrow.

#17 Posted by benpicko (2005 posts) -
@Jay444111

eh... to be quite honest, the movie industry is INCAPABLE of making good movies anymore. They used to about 20 years back but now they are only catering to themselves and their own pockets. Video games, hell, even ones like EDF2017 are more well written then a good 99% of movies made this year alone. hell, gears of war 3 even has a story that is better then a metric shitton of movies this year.

video games have replaced movies as a thoughtful artistic mainstream business. I used to respect the movie industry, I did, but... with movie makers like Uwe boll around every corner. I gotta be honest, I am thankful it actually takes talent to work in video games. One thing that the video game industry does far better is making sure you get rid of the shit game makers as quick as possible. Only the good survive. That one reason alone is what makes video games far greater then movies as well. competition makes for good things. Movies don't have that at all and have grown stagnant and outdated.

OK now I know you're just a troll. This is all you post.
#18 Posted by RagingLion (1368 posts) -

You raise a number of good points - here are some of my thoughts:

I am one of those who absolutely buys and seeks out games for their story or an interesting narrative/messing about about with the interactive nature of games in an interesting or original way. There are a good number of people also like that out there but probably not enough for people to really invest in good story. A problem is what games have been, they have created their audience and this audience then expects and wants the same kind of game-y things. There's a bigger audience out there that would get into story based games if people actually were creating them. (This of course a big generalisation and I know people are into a variety of things but I think it's valid).

I also agree with the whole things of creating games being such a complex thing that story has a difficulty being treated with respect and surviving the compromises required to get a game out of door and interact with all the other elements of creating the game. It's really hard to carry a vision through all of that big machine, but hey, films are in the same boat and sometimes manage to pull of something amazing though frequently fall down for these reasons. Maybe games are a more complex beast in terms of production to sustain a vision through? And certainly story is harder to produce for this interactive medium than something proscribed so people haven't got that all figured out yet.

#19 Posted by nomorehalfmeasuresdoctor (143 posts) -

I always come for story. Take that how you want.

#20 Posted by Kazona (3096 posts) -

@RagingLion: @nomorehalfmeasures:

So do I actually. This is probably why I don't have nearly as big a collection of games as others do, and why a lot of games I've bought have remained unfinished. They either had no story, or their story didn't intrigue me enough to warrant continued playing. That's not to say I never enjoy games without a story, but it does tend to be a big factor for me.

#21 Posted by nomorehalfmeasuresdoctor (143 posts) -

@Kazona: I hate to admit it but I bought Rage and thought the shooting was excellent, the graphics were great, but everything else about the game was not good at all. I traded the game in without beating it, don't judge me. I just couldn't play another minute of that game with that kind of story or without any meaningful character interaction. I also didn't like borderlands so take from that what you will I probably should have known better.