Narrative in Games

Before you read this I want to apologise, this is a lot of bullet points I wrote a couple of weeks ago about narrative in games, how excited I am about lots of stuff games like Mass Effect and Heavy Rain are doing, and where I'd like to see these ideas develop and progress in the future of gaming/new ideas that would be cool. The apology is that I really can't be bothered writing these up into the essay style blog I'd originally intended, but unlike most of the time when I write a blog I don't finish I still really want to say all this stuff, so sorry that this will be disjointed, rambling and in no way cohesive.
 

  •   If Heavy Rain was a thriller movie it would be relatively run of the mill, it’s the way the gameplay propels the narrative that truly makes it outstanding by immersing the player and making them care for more than the standard Hollywood audience does about the characters and the outcome of the plot
  •   BioWare’s developments in Mass Effect with dialogue tress from the previous RPG standard of a silent protagonist where the player chooses from a few full lines of dialogue to a wheel that just gives the gist of what you want the character say because instead of trying to convince the player that they are the character, it instead lets them build a character who is separate and exists in their own right thereby making them feel much more real for the play to be concerned about than a blank slate, while still letting them be immersed by the control they have over the chars decisions
  •   ME2’S introduction of an interrupt mechanic is also greatly important as it brings together the previously separate elements of action and dialogue and moves games towards being a single fluid experience and away from being stilted different sections of gameplay, cut scenes and dialogue
  •   While in many ways DA:O may seem like a step backwards for the sake of nostalgia it introduces a very important new aspect, rather than having a morality meter by which the developers judge a player’s decisions to be good or evil it utilising an approval meter for each character in your party, based on how that character’s opinions of the players actions, admittedly this is still quite a “gamey” feature (in real life you have to make decisions based on how people react to you rather than  being told what you just said made Morrigan like you +7, and there are only a very few, very shallow people whose affections can be won by showering them in material gifts) but it does move towards a way of judging a player’s actions that is closer to real life (and therefore intrinsically more immersive) rather telling people what they’re doing is bad and having the player choose to be good or evil (in my experience people almost always believe they are in the right for one reason or another). This doesn’t mean the player can’t indulge in their fantasies of arch-villainy if the so desire, just that they can do it by performing actions they would deem as evil, not abide to the developers sense of  (im)morality.
  •   Uncharted 2, yes it looks very pretty, but that’s not what makes it special, the art is mainly quite realistic (yes there’s some license taken with historical artefacts, temples etc. but the only thing that seems truly fantastic and out of this world was their choice to include blue dudes). Yes the gameplay is great, but that’s not what makes it special, it ‘s basically just a reiteration of gameplay mechanics from earlier games such as Gears of War’s cover shooting and the adventure puzzles of the Tomb Raider series (I don’t say this to take anything away from Uncharted 2’s gameplay, it comes damn close to perfecting those gameplay elements). What really makes Uncharted 2 special is the way its narrative unfolds, in essence it is the game version of a matinee adventure movie, such as Indiana Jones, but where other games would choose to show the big action set-pieces of those sorts of movies in a cutscene to preserve the cinematic scope and feel Uncharted 2 lets the player keep control while at the same time bettering their the visual scope of most other games’ cut scenes. 
  •   The other really important thing to mention about both Uncharted 2 and DA:O is the way the characters interact not only in cutscenes but the dialogue between them during gameplay - I’d like to see this develop in a way that involves the player more in these interactions between characters
  •   Point needs to be made that different narratives require different things, ultimate player freedom isn’t always the best way to go, but the more the player is involved the better the experience will be
  •   In general I’d like to see more games open up their environments and give the player more freedom as to where they go, however obviously this isn’t entertaining if there’s nothing to do and obviously having lots of open spaces filled with different things wouldn’t always make sense and would distract from the narrative 
  •   The landscape and the environment, really add to the narrative in games like Fallout 3 and GTAIV where there are things that are not essential to the plot that teach the player more about the world the game is in
  •   Games should be willing to take risks and allow players to build their own narrative, the player does not need to experience everything you’ve written, Demon’s Souls is a great example of this where characters can die without the player ever having met them. It also demonstrates that players do not need to be told everything, they can learn through interacting with the environment and other characters in the game
  •   As much as possible games should try and not make players play through scripted events - it’s more fun knowing that the game is reacting to your actions rather than just giving you scripted events that are always the same.
  •   QTEs are usually just a way of making a player feel a little bit more involved in cool cutscenes, but Heavy Rain has shown that every command can have a slight difference to the sequence of events, even if the outcome is ultimately the same, rather than just a thing that lets your character do cool stuff if you’ve got good reactions e.g. missing a thumbstick command in Heavy Rain doesn’t make the QTE restart it means your dude gets cut up with a bottle.
  •   I’d ultimately like to see death being of more consequence than just a game over screen and having to start back at the last checkpoint, even if it’s only a cutscene (also all cutscenes should be shippable, it really slows games down having to rewatch something every time you fuck up) to show how the story plays out since your character died.
  •   Ultimately I’d like to see all characters in games responding differently based upon what they know about the character and their actions throughout the game
  •   If you have to react to something games shouldn’t give you time to think about it unless it makes sense in the story, you shouldn’t be able to sit for ages deciding which dialogue response you’d prefer, without someone responding to the fact that you appear to have been struck dumb
  •   Things should be removed from dialogue trees once they’ve been said, or if the player hasn’t been through the situation that would make that dialogue make sense (there’s a really noticeable thing at the end of Heavy Rain where one character can ring another who, depending on the actions in the rest of the game, they may never have met). Repeating dialogue really breaks the experience and takes you out of the idea that these are real people having real interactions.
Start the Conversation
1 Comments
Posted by raidingkvatch

Before you read this I want to apologise, this is a lot of bullet points I wrote a couple of weeks ago about narrative in games, how excited I am about lots of stuff games like Mass Effect and Heavy Rain are doing, and where I'd like to see these ideas develop and progress in the future of gaming/new ideas that would be cool. The apology is that I really can't be bothered writing these up into the essay style blog I'd originally intended, but unlike most of the time when I write a blog I don't finish I still really want to say all this stuff, so sorry that this will be disjointed, rambling and in no way cohesive.
 

  •   If Heavy Rain was a thriller movie it would be relatively run of the mill, it’s the way the gameplay propels the narrative that truly makes it outstanding by immersing the player and making them care for more than the standard Hollywood audience does about the characters and the outcome of the plot
  •   BioWare’s developments in Mass Effect with dialogue tress from the previous RPG standard of a silent protagonist where the player chooses from a few full lines of dialogue to a wheel that just gives the gist of what you want the character say because instead of trying to convince the player that they are the character, it instead lets them build a character who is separate and exists in their own right thereby making them feel much more real for the play to be concerned about than a blank slate, while still letting them be immersed by the control they have over the chars decisions
  •   ME2’S introduction of an interrupt mechanic is also greatly important as it brings together the previously separate elements of action and dialogue and moves games towards being a single fluid experience and away from being stilted different sections of gameplay, cut scenes and dialogue
  •   While in many ways DA:O may seem like a step backwards for the sake of nostalgia it introduces a very important new aspect, rather than having a morality meter by which the developers judge a player’s decisions to be good or evil it utilising an approval meter for each character in your party, based on how that character’s opinions of the players actions, admittedly this is still quite a “gamey” feature (in real life you have to make decisions based on how people react to you rather than  being told what you just said made Morrigan like you +7, and there are only a very few, very shallow people whose affections can be won by showering them in material gifts) but it does move towards a way of judging a player’s actions that is closer to real life (and therefore intrinsically more immersive) rather telling people what they’re doing is bad and having the player choose to be good or evil (in my experience people almost always believe they are in the right for one reason or another). This doesn’t mean the player can’t indulge in their fantasies of arch-villainy if the so desire, just that they can do it by performing actions they would deem as evil, not abide to the developers sense of  (im)morality.
  •   Uncharted 2, yes it looks very pretty, but that’s not what makes it special, the art is mainly quite realistic (yes there’s some license taken with historical artefacts, temples etc. but the only thing that seems truly fantastic and out of this world was their choice to include blue dudes). Yes the gameplay is great, but that’s not what makes it special, it ‘s basically just a reiteration of gameplay mechanics from earlier games such as Gears of War’s cover shooting and the adventure puzzles of the Tomb Raider series (I don’t say this to take anything away from Uncharted 2’s gameplay, it comes damn close to perfecting those gameplay elements). What really makes Uncharted 2 special is the way its narrative unfolds, in essence it is the game version of a matinee adventure movie, such as Indiana Jones, but where other games would choose to show the big action set-pieces of those sorts of movies in a cutscene to preserve the cinematic scope and feel Uncharted 2 lets the player keep control while at the same time bettering their the visual scope of most other games’ cut scenes. 
  •   The other really important thing to mention about both Uncharted 2 and DA:O is the way the characters interact not only in cutscenes but the dialogue between them during gameplay - I’d like to see this develop in a way that involves the player more in these interactions between characters
  •   Point needs to be made that different narratives require different things, ultimate player freedom isn’t always the best way to go, but the more the player is involved the better the experience will be
  •   In general I’d like to see more games open up their environments and give the player more freedom as to where they go, however obviously this isn’t entertaining if there’s nothing to do and obviously having lots of open spaces filled with different things wouldn’t always make sense and would distract from the narrative 
  •   The landscape and the environment, really add to the narrative in games like Fallout 3 and GTAIV where there are things that are not essential to the plot that teach the player more about the world the game is in
  •   Games should be willing to take risks and allow players to build their own narrative, the player does not need to experience everything you’ve written, Demon’s Souls is a great example of this where characters can die without the player ever having met them. It also demonstrates that players do not need to be told everything, they can learn through interacting with the environment and other characters in the game
  •   As much as possible games should try and not make players play through scripted events - it’s more fun knowing that the game is reacting to your actions rather than just giving you scripted events that are always the same.
  •   QTEs are usually just a way of making a player feel a little bit more involved in cool cutscenes, but Heavy Rain has shown that every command can have a slight difference to the sequence of events, even if the outcome is ultimately the same, rather than just a thing that lets your character do cool stuff if you’ve got good reactions e.g. missing a thumbstick command in Heavy Rain doesn’t make the QTE restart it means your dude gets cut up with a bottle.
  •   I’d ultimately like to see death being of more consequence than just a game over screen and having to start back at the last checkpoint, even if it’s only a cutscene (also all cutscenes should be shippable, it really slows games down having to rewatch something every time you fuck up) to show how the story plays out since your character died.
  •   Ultimately I’d like to see all characters in games responding differently based upon what they know about the character and their actions throughout the game
  •   If you have to react to something games shouldn’t give you time to think about it unless it makes sense in the story, you shouldn’t be able to sit for ages deciding which dialogue response you’d prefer, without someone responding to the fact that you appear to have been struck dumb
  •   Things should be removed from dialogue trees once they’ve been said, or if the player hasn’t been through the situation that would make that dialogue make sense (there’s a really noticeable thing at the end of Heavy Rain where one character can ring another who, depending on the actions in the rest of the game, they may never have met). Repeating dialogue really breaks the experience and takes you out of the idea that these are real people having real interactions.