Writers Matter

I've been told the direct opposite to my face, especially for small games. But writers do matter. I'll put down stuff as it comes to me, feel free to add games you've experienced where the writing added to the game.

I like that this article was published after I started this list:

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2012-07-18-its-been-a-poor-poor-five-years-for-fiction-in-the-video-game-industry

"submitted by" means someone else gave me the idea, but I haven't played a sufficient amount to agree or know what they're getting at, while

"recommended by" means that someone thought of it first, but I see where they're coming from.

List items

7 Comments
Posted by Podunk

You should add Planescape: Torment to this list. The writing made that game what it is.

Posted by Ghostiet

Definitely Nier and the Mother series. The plot makes them, especially in the way they play with the medium of video games for storytelling purposes. Mother 3 and Nier are true examples of works of art that cannot be translated to another medium faithfully.

Posted by eroticfishcake

My personal addition would be Dark Souls as it uses the "Less is more" technique really well not to mention a few other tricks that don't even use words. Just about all of the games story is harvested from item descriptions and the sparse dialogue which very minimal, it's also fairly deliberate in it's choice of words. Furthermore, it even manages to tell the story through environmental design and the specific placements of certain items leaving it up to the player to piece the puzzle together.

Some would say that Dark Souls doesn't have a story but it does. It's just the people who don't really care about don't notice and the game's totally fine with it but if you're into it it suddenly becomes an easter egg hunt of every single detail the game has to offer. It doesn't really follow the traditional methods of storytelling in games such as cut scenes or dialogue trees but rather techniques and styles that are unique to video games and no other entertainment medium which makes Dark Soul's story beautiful in my eyes.

Fanboyism aside, I would also argue that Deus Ex and System Shock 2 would be good additions, both stories are rather gritty and mature and more importantly it doesn't treat the player like and idiot. It trusts the player to know what's going on and it's not afraid to let go of your hand since players are free (and often rewarded) by exploring the environment and finding datacubes, newspapers and various pieces of reading material that flesh out the game's fiction which again, is another style of story telling unique to video games.

Lastly, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri is another personal favourites when it comes to story telling in video games since it's as far as I know, the only the 4X that leans on it's story and fiction to build immersion and atmosphere. Researching a new technology and building a wonder has it's obvious benefits but most characteristic thing about doing so is that you're always rewarded with a quote from the faction leaders or some other powerful figure. It's focus on hard science is also an admirable approach in making the fiction so much more believable and the furthermore the simple fact that the factions are divided by ideology rather then by race or nationality and their survival on an alien planet makes it and excellent backdrop for conflict and drama.

So yeah, sorry about the really long rant but I guess I've strong feelings about a good story in games. But anyway I just thought I'd throw those examples out there. Feel free to ignore me. (Also I'm sure there's other games but I've either forgotten them right now or they're already on the list. I'll get back to you at some stage.)

Posted by Video_Game_King

Wait, friggin' Mother? The first one? Charm is the only thing it has going for it, and there's not a ton. Earthbound, on the other hand....

Also, Fragile Dreams.

Posted by eroticfishcake

Hohoho! When I said Deus Ex I meant the original of course! DX: HR has good enough writing to be interesting but it's certainly not as smart as it thinks it is. Also Deus Ex is very, very similar to SS2 in terms of it's story telling anyway so if you've played one of them then you've played them all, in a sense.

Also don't add these to the lists since I haven't put too much thought into it but the Homeworld and Max Payne series is quite interesting in terms of the tone and setting which is rather unique and distinctive. Think about it.

Also I wouldn't think VNs would really fit into this list given that they're essentially glorified choose-your-own adventure books. While the stories can be really good, the interactivity and player input is incredibly scant since the only options there generally is either turn the page or choose one of three options. Granted, some VNs introduce some extra mechanics (such as Don't Take It Personally Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story (as well Christine Love's other works)) a majority of them are too linear to have any notable effects added or instigated by the player, if that makes any sense.

So no I wouldn't say VN's would qualify though they wouldn't be totally struck off as well. I'm talking out of my arse again but hopefully you'll see where I'm coming from.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

@eroticfishcake:... Hm. And what's wrong with choose your own adventure books?

You know, a game like Mass Effect is basically a virtual novel with some action game activities in between. The results of the action almost never, or possibly never, actually affect the outcome. It all comes down to choices you make, and those choices are made in dialog, which is pretty much de-facto VN style, and this is the same for just about everything Bioware has ever made, from Baldur's Gate to SWtOR.

And this'll probably cause me to wax about how most games that aren't simulations have a painfully linear set of outcomes, even if they might number in the hundreds. You as a player can choose to do all kinds of things that don't follow the branches, but the game designer often considers you to be wasting time or just trying to break the game, and only when you get back on the paths they've laid out for you does any meaningful progress actually happen.

Some can argue that THAT part isn't really a game, that it's more when you're trying to jump through the walls or glitch out an NPC that the actual game-ness occurs, but that suggests to me that most of the games industry and its consumers are deluding themselves into thinking they're playing games, when they're actually doing activities within a series of branching paths. But I don't see it that way; I think these choices are reducible, but it's more about generosity and immersion, a subjective thing, that tells me whether it's sufficiently a game for me. A story with two branches is still at least a very simple mechanism; probably unsatisfying, but its structure as a whole is non-linear.

Some of the games I enjoy the most are those where just about any crazy thing can happen just through the combination of in-game environmental effects but... VNs can have those too. Sure, the world pauses in VNs when you're going to make a choice (and thus, they're turn based) but they don't have to be. And even if they are, an NPC for example could be doing different things at different times of day, or they could react to you being mean to another NPC and never show up at your door at the appointed time... it's still all scripted, but it's not linear.

And yet even if it was completely planned out, and it was just branches with no data collection, or random numbers, or stats, it would still be a game to me since my decisions would be involved, however simple the structure might be.

I'd be interested to know, just as a thought experiment, what it would take for a VN-style system to approach game-ness, since it has some bearing on... well, my future as it turns out.

Posted by eroticfishcake

@ahoodedfigure: Heh, I sound like I'm really hate choose your own adventure books don't I? I've nothing against them but I just don't think they really fit well into the whole story telling through video games given their straight linearity and lack of player input which also brings me to Mass Effect which I've also thought about before so I'm glad you mentioned it.

To be honest I was really hesitant (and still am) about comparing Mass Effect akin to something like a visual novel because while the player can choose certain option that define the outcome of the story, all of those choices exist within a strict framework since they're designed by the developer themselves so even if you play through it and witness "your own story" it's still possible for other people to get the exact same story and events if they chose with you did and given the simplicity of these choices, it's entirely possible.

Granted, it can be argued that that this also applies to just about every game but I think the scale and depth can define whether it's done well or not. I'm just picking on Mass Effect in particular given it's a recent example (and it's arse gravy excuse for an ending.) But I can see your point and VN's being a scripted but otherwise non-linear. Maybe I'm being confused with the two but it's just VN's seem so much more rigid to me in terms of it's path finding. Again, it's the scale and depth of those choices that can make it feel more organic and give the illusion of free will. Deus Ex in particular is really good at this since it presents a number of ways to overcome an obstacle whether it's story or environmental but it's still quite possible to bypass them though some unorthodox fashion.

So it's not so much the linearity that divides us but rather, generosity and immersion as you pointed out. Two-branches in a story may be sufficient a mechanic to to deem it non-linear but it's really a matter of how they handle those branches. Dragon Age gives it's players a number of origin stories but as the main story drives out it eventually boils down to one path (with a number of small differences made by the player) while on the other side of the spectrum lies the Witcher 2 where player choices can bring the player to entirely new places with different characters. Both give examples of player choices but ultimately how large a difference those choices make really matter.

Maybe you are right in that the game-ness of a Bioware game and a visual novel are no different to only consider one as a game since the story structure of both isn't terribly different. But as I said, VNs feel a little too bare for me to really consider it as a "real" game. One feels like a fast car on a point to point race and the other is like a train that occasional comes across a railway junction, either way both end at their own destination albeit differently.