Video Games as Interactive Stories

When deciding to purchase a game, I often find myself thinking about the length of the game and the actual "play time" and if it meets the price of the game. Is a 6 hour campaign worth $60? Is a 2 hour game worth $15? How much of my time will be spent playing compared to watching cut scenes? Sometimes I really feel like I over think all these things when instead I should just be focusing on whether I will enjoy the entire experience of the game itself. Lately I have been playing a lot of games where the gameplay itself is lacking or close to none existent, but the characters, atmosphere, and story are all amazing. I know a lot of people can be opposed to games such as Journey because "its not really a game so its not worth $15" but I have been finding myself having some of my best gaming experiences in recent memory with games that have the gameplay take a backseat. Rather than being games they are more like interactive stories.

First is Alan Wake, a game filled with great characters, writing, and atmosphere. Walking through the environments and seeing the attention to detail really gives you a good feeling of the world of Bright Falls and the characters that inhabit it. The times walking through the trails or visiting areas of the town was extremely enjoyable. Piecing together the story of Alan through his own manuscript was a very engaging and memorable experience. Finding Night Springs TV show episodes throughout the various areas was entertaining but also added to the thrill of the game and this idea of alternate realities where evil happens. The story, though at times confusing, was creative and written in such a way that I at times felt like this game would have made for an excellent novel. The gameplay of Alan Wake was just a way to break up the parts of exploration, and were really just secondary to the rest of the game. I actually wished there was less shooting in Alan Wake and more exploration.

To The Moon I believe is the finest example of recent "interactive storytelling" in games (and is what inspired me to write this blog post). There really isn't any gameplay in To The Moon and I still loved every second of it. The story was written so well, the dialogue brought you from laughter to sadness withing minutes and the old time RPG look and feel surprisingly allowed the game to tell its story in a very unique way. While the plot could be seen as cheesy (and maybe not that original) it was so much fun to sit down and just have an emotional story where I could just interact with the environment and not have to worry about dying, solving really hard puzzles, or beating high scores. While I may have had more fun playing other games, most of them are pretty forgettable compared to To The Moon.

Other games I have recently played where the story trumps the gameplay are Spec Ops: The Line and Journey. I already ranted about how amazing Journey is here and although Spec Ops: The Line isn't really in an "interactive story" category I personally felt like that games characters, dialogue, environments all were what made that game a great experience for me, so much so that I didn't even mind the generic shooter formula. Other games in the past such as Indigo prophecy and Hevay Rain also fit the "less gameplay more story" format. All of these games I thoroughly enjoyed and they each stand out in my mind.

My question is, does anyone think that in the future we will see even more games like Journey and To The Moon, or games Like Alan Wake and Spec Ops where the core of the experience isn't in the actual "game" part? Would it be cool to have an "interactive story" genre for games in the future, where you spend most of the game just walking around, talking to characters or just interacting with the world?

Also, I'm looking for more games like this to play. I have Limbo and Lone Survivor and I should definitely play Dear Esther as well. Any other recommendations?

23 Comments
24 Comments
Posted by CJduke

When deciding to purchase a game, I often find myself thinking about the length of the game and the actual "play time" and if it meets the price of the game. Is a 6 hour campaign worth $60? Is a 2 hour game worth $15? How much of my time will be spent playing compared to watching cut scenes? Sometimes I really feel like I over think all these things when instead I should just be focusing on whether I will enjoy the entire experience of the game itself. Lately I have been playing a lot of games where the gameplay itself is lacking or close to none existent, but the characters, atmosphere, and story are all amazing. I know a lot of people can be opposed to games such as Journey because "its not really a game so its not worth $15" but I have been finding myself having some of my best gaming experiences in recent memory with games that have the gameplay take a backseat. Rather than being games they are more like interactive stories.

First is Alan Wake, a game filled with great characters, writing, and atmosphere. Walking through the environments and seeing the attention to detail really gives you a good feeling of the world of Bright Falls and the characters that inhabit it. The times walking through the trails or visiting areas of the town was extremely enjoyable. Piecing together the story of Alan through his own manuscript was a very engaging and memorable experience. Finding Night Springs TV show episodes throughout the various areas was entertaining but also added to the thrill of the game and this idea of alternate realities where evil happens. The story, though at times confusing, was creative and written in such a way that I at times felt like this game would have made for an excellent novel. The gameplay of Alan Wake was just a way to break up the parts of exploration, and were really just secondary to the rest of the game. I actually wished there was less shooting in Alan Wake and more exploration.

To The Moon I believe is the finest example of recent "interactive storytelling" in games (and is what inspired me to write this blog post). There really isn't any gameplay in To The Moon and I still loved every second of it. The story was written so well, the dialogue brought you from laughter to sadness withing minutes and the old time RPG look and feel surprisingly allowed the game to tell its story in a very unique way. While the plot could be seen as cheesy (and maybe not that original) it was so much fun to sit down and just have an emotional story where I could just interact with the environment and not have to worry about dying, solving really hard puzzles, or beating high scores. While I may have had more fun playing other games, most of them are pretty forgettable compared to To The Moon.

Other games I have recently played where the story trumps the gameplay are Spec Ops: The Line and Journey. I already ranted about how amazing Journey is here and although Spec Ops: The Line isn't really in an "interactive story" category I personally felt like that games characters, dialogue, environments all were what made that game a great experience for me, so much so that I didn't even mind the generic shooter formula. Other games in the past such as Indigo prophecy and Hevay Rain also fit the "less gameplay more story" format. All of these games I thoroughly enjoyed and they each stand out in my mind.

My question is, does anyone think that in the future we will see even more games like Journey and To The Moon, or games Like Alan Wake and Spec Ops where the core of the experience isn't in the actual "game" part? Would it be cool to have an "interactive story" genre for games in the future, where you spend most of the game just walking around, talking to characters or just interacting with the world?

Also, I'm looking for more games like this to play. I have Limbo and Lone Survivor and I should definitely play Dear Esther as well. Any other recommendations?

Posted by MooseyMcMan

Since no one else posted anything of any sort of meaningful value (or anything at all), and I've just been playing mindless games like Just Cause 2, I'm going to post a video.

This is the first thing I thought of (light spoilers, maybe(?), for those who haven't played the game).

Actually, more on point, I did play Closure a few weeks ago. And while I'm not entirely sure about the true meaning of the game (there seem to be several theories on the internet), but there's definitely something going on beneath the surface of the game. And much like in Limbo, there's no dialog or any sort of story "told" to the player, it's all in the environment, and pretty well done. Either that or I completely misinterpreted it.

Also, I still think you should finish Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Moderator
Posted by Jay444111

The Mass Effect series should be in here for something to NEVER try to do again. If you are to make a story based game series that relies on saves from past games. Make them actually count and plan them out WAY beforehand... otherwise there is no point in playing them... in fact, the Mass Effect games make a great discussion on what NOT to do for a interactive story. It is like The Room of those type of video games! Sadly... I am not joking on that.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

@Jay444111: That's going way to far. As bad as some aspects of Mass Effect 3 were, they in no way approach the atrocity that is that film, the one so horridly bad that calling it a train wreck is an insult to train wrecks.

But yes, the meddling of EA caused some not great stuff in ME3 (or at least I assume it's EA's fault, because BioWare wouldn't write a story that contradicts the first one from the first few minutes of ME3).

Moderator
Posted by Jay444111

@MooseyMcMan said:

@Jay444111: That's going way to far. As bad as some aspects of Mass Effect 3 were, they in no way approach the atrocity that is that film, the one so horridly bad that calling it a train wreck is an insult to train wrecks.

But yes, the meddling of EA caused some not great stuff in ME3 (or at least I assume it's EA's fault, because BioWare wouldn't write a story that contradicts the first one from the first few minutes of ME3).

Here is the difference between how The Room is and the Mass Effect games.

The Room is basically free and you can watch on TV during certain parts of the year.

It starts bad and ends bad.

The actors are terrible.

The story is terrible

Mass Effect, if you spent money on it from the very beginning could have wasted around 200$!

It starts awesome and ends so horrifically that not even the room gets as bad as that ending!

The acting was pretty good... until you get to some of the average voice actors.

The story starts awesome with the first game, kinda average in the second, and the third is so pants on head dumb that it literally voids the other twos existence.

Your choices have never mattered in any of the games... at all... Bioware made sure of this by doing as much as possible to do that by making canon points where you are FORCED to just accept some dumb parts no matter what in a game series which they themselves told you that it is "Your" story.

Oh... and they blatently lied to us constantly.

I could accept The Room as a more defined piece of work than Mass Effect ever will be now. The series is so broken by stupidity that there is no use in trying to fix it for how fucked it got.

I would rather watch The Room 10K times than play through the trilogy of Mass Effect even one more time.

Mass Effect series IS going to be used in schools later on as a reference on what to never do in any fiction! That is a fact and am willing to place my testicles... both of them on the block for how sure I am.

Posted by EXTomar

I don't know...maybe Alan Wake is an example of an interactive story but it always seemed like a poor story not helped by the game.

Posted by Clonedzero

@Jay444111 said:

The Mass Effect series should be in here for something to NEVER try to do again. If you are to make a story based game series that relies on saves from past games. Make them actually count and plan them out WAY beforehand... otherwise there is no point in playing them... in fact, the Mass Effect games make a great discussion on what NOT to do for a interactive story. It is like The Room of those type of video games! Sadly... I am not joking on that.

eh, i think you're over reacting to that.

mass effect is the only real series to ever carry saves over like that. unless some other game did that im unaware of. to be the first big series to try something like that, i think everyones expectations were WAY out of wack for it. its not feasible to expect your every choice in the series would have huge sweeping effects on the rest of the games. theres plenty of things that change from game to game based on your choices. its pretty cool. is it perfect? nope. but can you name another big game seires that did it? cus i sure as hell cant.

and ive actually seen The Room. so to compare mass effect to that almost made me completely dismiss you as trolling.

Posted by CosmicBatman

@CJduke: You should play FEZ.

Also, Machinarium, and Coma is kind of cool for a free game.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

@CosmicBatman said:

@CJduke: You should play FEZ.

Yes! He should! If it ever comes out on Steam, Mr. CJDuke, buy Fez. It's fantastic.

@Jay444111: I still disagree with you. Some choices definitely do matter. I don't care what anyone says about choices not mattering, Mass Effect 2 and 3 are not the same without Wrex.

Also, I still stand by my assertion that even the worst, most awful parts of ME3 are still glorious and amazing in comparison to The Room, and that the dip in quality isn't that much in ME3. No, the endings aren't great, but they're not The Room bad.

Moderator
Posted by DoctorDanger99

its all about value,which sounds shitty to say. if i spend 5-10 dllrs on a movie and it sucks,oh well.crappy movie. if i spend 60 dllrs or more on a game and after a few hours its over. i got screwed. even in the rare case that it was great. 60 dllrs is a hard pill to swallow.

Posted by CJduke

@CosmicBatman: Thanks for the game ideas, I'll look into these

Posted by JoeyRavn

I feel I keep repeating myself, but 999 is absolutely amazing. It's like a mix of those weird Japanese dating sims with some "escape the room" puzzles and a Choose You Own Adventure thrown into the mix. If you're looking for an engrossing story, look no further.

The Phoenix Wright series is a good place to look for it too. Notice that I said "Phoenix Wright" and not "Ace Attorney", because, frankly, the fourth game is a steaming pile of shit. And I'm throughly enjoying L.A. Noire's overarching plots at the moment.

Online
Posted by CJduke

@JoeyRavn: My friend played 999 and loved it, though I talked to him about it and he told me most of the plot, but it did sound pretty great

Posted by sickVisionz

Heavy Rain and the Walking Dead games immediately come to mind.

Posted by Ravenlight

Go play Katawa Shoujo right the hell now.

If you're into the literal definition of interactive stories, check out the IF Archive

Posted by Canteu

The walking dead is a perfect example of this.

There is generally little gameplay to speak of, and the game is driven mostly by your choices and only somewhat by your actions.

@Ravenlight: Do visual novels really count as games? Or even interactive for that matter?

Posted by Ravenlight

@Canteu said:

@Ravenlight: Do visual novels really count as games? Or even interactive for that matter?

Only if you're man enough for them.

Posted by Canteu

@Ravenlight: Well I read Katawa Shoujo, and just got bored as it is fucking horrible writing. I guess I'm not man enough to endure terrible literature.

Posted by GERALTITUDE

@Jay444111: I get what you're saying but I really don't think they should never make games like that again. I want them to keep trying. It's pretty damn hard to do no doubt but the idea behind ME is so brilliant.

Posted by Hunkulese
@Jay444111

@MooseyMcMan said:

@Jay444111: That's going way to far. As bad as some aspects of Mass Effect 3 were, they in no way approach the atrocity that is that film, the one so horridly bad that calling it a train wreck is an insult to train wrecks.

But yes, the meddling of EA caused some not great stuff in ME3 (or at least I assume it's EA's fault, because BioWare wouldn't write a story that contradicts the first one from the first few minutes of ME3).

Here is the difference between how The Room is and the Mass Effect games.

The Room is basically free and you can watch on TV during certain parts of the year.

It starts bad and ends bad.

The actors are terrible.

The story is terrible

Mass Effect, if you spent money on it from the very beginning could have wasted around 200$!

It starts awesome and ends so horrifically that not even the room gets as bad as that ending!

The acting was pretty good... until you get to some of the average voice actors.

The story starts awesome with the first game, kinda average in the second, and the third is so pants on head dumb that it literally voids the other twos existence.

Your choices have never mattered in any of the games... at all... Bioware made sure of this by doing as much as possible to do that by making canon points where you are FORCED to just accept some dumb parts no matter what in a game series which they themselves told you that it is "Your" story.

Oh... and they blatently lied to us constantly.

I could accept The Room as a more defined piece of work than Mass Effect ever will be now. The series is so broken by stupidity that there is no use in trying to fix it for how fucked it got.

I would rather watch The Room 10K times than play through the trilogy of Mass Effect even one more time.

Mass Effect series IS going to be used in schools later on as a reference on what to never do in any fiction! That is a fact and am willing to place my testicles... both of them on the block for how sure I am.

@Jay444111 "Pants on head dumb" actually succinctly summarizes all your forum post. Good work on finally posting something useful.
Posted by Hunkulese
@CJduke There's a whole genre of games that are just what you're asking for. Start playing adventure games. Try the monkey island remakes as well as The Longest Journey
Posted by TheHumanDove

Sure. Look at Dear Esther. It's all about story, atmosphere and mystery. There is nothing more you can do besides move around in the game and explore, and it was highly successful.

Posted by CJduke

@Hunkulese said:

@CJduke There's a whole genre of games that are just what you're asking for. Start playing adventure games. Try the monkey island remakes as well as The Longest Journey

adventure games arent exactly what im looking for, they are great and all but there is a lot of puzzle solving in games like the longest journey and monkey island, that at least for me, are pretty hard. I looking for more story focus and less puzzles

Posted by CJduke

@Canteu: I have the walking dead just finished the second episode and it is awesome